Brown touts benefits of veterans bill
New rule mandates coverage of ills from war-zone burn pits
WARREN — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said a law that will take effect Jan. 1 will allow veterans exposed to toxic burn pits to get the medical coverage and disability benefits they deserve.
Brown spoke Friday with a group of veterans at the Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission.
If a veteran gets particular medical conditions covered in the law “connected to exposure to these burn pits, you automatically will get coverage,” said Brown, D-Cleveland. “You automatically will get care whether you go to the Youngstown, Warren or Cleveland VA. It’s no questions asked if you’re diagnosed with these illnesses. You get the care. That’s very different than what it was before.”
President Joe Biden on Aug. 10 signed the Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. Robinson was an Ohio veteran who died in 2020 at the age of 39 from lung cancer after exposure to burn pits during a 2006 deployment to Iraq.
The act expands Department of Veterans Affairs health care and benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. Burn pits were used in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of chemicals, cans, tires, plastics, medical equipment and human waste.
About 70 percent of disability claims involving exposure to the pits had been denied by the VA before the bill was approved.
The law directs VA officials to assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were related to exposure to burn pits and help veterans get disability payments without having to prove the illness was the result of their service.
Part of the law also adds hypertension to the list of ailments for Vietnam War veterans likely caused by exposure to Agent Orange as well as to those who served in other countries during that war.
A number of the veterans at Friday’s event with Brown said they told VA physicians and staff about having medical problems caused by exposure and were largely ignored.
“I know how important this is,” said Herm Breuer, Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission executive director. “The impact of this piece of legislation is enormous. Just to see this passed into law is so important.”
Once the law goes into effect Jan. 1, Brown said, “People will get that coverage just from the start and they won’t have to prove” it came from military service.
“The benefit of the doubt goes to the veterans as it should,” he said.