As veterans grapple with toxic exposures, demand for health care surges

As veterans grapple with toxic exposures, demand for health care surges Iris Myers August 10, 2023
One year ago today, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act. He heralded the law as the “most significant expansion” of  health care for veterans in 30 years.  The law offers hope to the millions of veterans affected by certain chemical hazards, such as Agent Orange or toxic burn pits. But there’s a pressing need to expand it to help veterans and families who have been exposed to harmful levels of the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in water supplies on military bases. In signing the PACT Act, the president recognized our duty to care for service members, as well as military families, who sacrifice to protect the nation. The law ensures veterans can receive high quality health care screenings and services, and expands access to Veterans Affairs health care services for veterans and families.  Veterans can enroll for VA health care without having to show a service-connected disability. After just one year, the VA has received 786,000 disability claims under the PACT Act. Supporting veterans with PFAS-related health problems Veterans and families exposed to toxic PFAS need and deserve access to VA health care.   The Department of Defense has acknowledged that drinking or groundwater supplies at over 450 installations contain some level of PFAS.  EWG estimates more than 640,000 people at these installations likely received drinking water contaminated with PFAS above levels deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. This estimate represents a single “snapshot” in time and does not account for the total number of people exposed over several decades at military installations.  PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they are among the most persistent compounds in existence, contaminating everything from drinking water to food, food packaging and personal care products. PFAS never break down in the environment, and they are linked to serious health problems, including increased risk of cancer and harm to the reproductive and immune systems These chemicals were commonly found in firefighting foam used on military bases. A new federal study suggests a strong link between PFOS – one of the most studied PFAS, often in firefighting foam – found in the blood of thousands of military personnel and testicular cancer.

Multiple studies have shown that firefighters, both military and civilian, have been diagnosed with testicular cancer at higher rates than people in most other occupations.  Honoring our veterans Similar to the PACT Act, the Veterans Exposed to Toxic PFAS Act, or VET PFAS Act, introduced by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and John Fetterman (D-Pa.), would provide VA health care services and benefits to veterans exposed to PFAS.  In the House, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), joined by a bipartisan group of 27 cosponsors, has introduced a companion bill. Lawmakers introduced similar legislation in previous sessions of Congress.   On the first anniversary of the PACT Act, EWG and a broad coalition of veteran organizations urge Congress to honor our veterans by passing the VET PFAS Act.

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PACT Act first anniversary highlights need for support with illnesses due to ‘forever chemicals’
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