Today marks Veterans Day in the United States, a celebration of the men and women who have served and sacrificed for this country. Celebrated on November 11, Veterans Day began to commemorate an unofficial end of “The Great War.” In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, an armistice temporarily halted fighting in what is now known as World War I. Several months later, on June 28, 1919, the war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
On August 10, 2022, President Joe Biden signed the “Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022” (PACT) Act into law. This PACT Act, which passed both Houses of Congress with bipartisan support, provides access to healthcare, including monitoring and treatment, to Veterans who develop illnesses from exposure to toxic substances during their military service.
Military men and women can encounter a variety of toxic substances in the line of duty, and these exposures can result in illnesses and diseases. Labroots has previously covered some vulnerabilities common to Veterans, like experiencing contamination from burn pits and excessive time spent in the sun without adequate skin protection. .
Many of the medical complications experienced by veterans do not appear until long after completion of his or her military service, highlighting the importance of enactment of policies and procedures to ensure veterans maintain access to high-quality healthcare. Increasing the odds of early cancer detection could effectively save the lives of the men and women who risked their lives to serve their country.
According to the White House press release on the day of signing, the PACT Act represented “the most significant expansion of benefits and services for toxic exposed veterans in more than 30 years”. The announcement continued to explain that the United States has an obligation not only to prepare the military for their service but also to take care of them when they return home.
The PACT Act includes provisions to ensure veterans have access to health screenings directly related to any toxic exposures occurring during their service. To facilitate individualized plans for regular screening and evaluations, the PACT Act also classified novel processes to evaluate the exposures an individual faced during his or her service. Additionally, the PACT Act eliminated restrictions that required a veteran to prove a connection between military service and specific diagnoses, including skin, pancreatic, kidney, and brain cancers. The PACT Act also directs the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to pursue research to better understand the toxicities veterans stationed in different parts of the world have faced.
In August 2023, one year after the PACT Act became law, the White House released an update indicating that, due to the provisions of the law, over 4.1 million veterans had received free screenings for the exposures encountered during their service—one year of PACT Act funding delivered over $1.85 billion in benefits to veterans and their families. The VA has accelerated the rate of bringing these benefits to veterans, which includes a 16% improvement in processing claims. Notably, nearly $215 million in PACT Act-related funding has reached veterans with cancer.