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New York Congressmen hail PACT Act’s impacts on veterans

Congressman Paul Tonko joined VA representatives at Stratton VA in Albany to host an event for veterans to learn more about the benefits of the PACT Act and offer opportunities to register for Veteran benefits.
Dave Lucas
Congressman Paul Tonko joined VA representatives at Stratton VA in Albany to host an event for veterans to learn more about the benefits of the PACT Act and offer opportunities to register for Veteran benefits.

New York Congressman Paul Tonko visited Stratton Albany VA Medical Center Wednesday to speak with veterans and their families about the PACT Act.

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act was signed in August by President Biden. Tonko, a Democrat from the 20th district, says it marks one of the largest benefit expansions in the VA's history.

"PACT Act will ensure veterans living with the effects of toxic exposure, including exposure to burn pits and Agent Orange, that they can access the care and benefits they deserve," said Tonko. "It does this by expanding and extending eligibility and health care services for veterans who experienced toxic exposure, and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War and post-911 eras. The PACT Act also codifies the VAs new procedure for establishing a presumption of toxic exposure, and requires the VA to seek external input and review in this process. These critical changes will allow our VA to provide more veterans with access to the care that they truly need. The legislation also ended the requirement for veterans and their survivors to prove a service connection if they are indeed diagnosed with one of the listed conditions, including certain respiratory diseases, and several forms of cancer. This change will help reduce paperwork, it will reduce appointments, and it will get rid of other barriers to accessing VA health care and compensation for our eligible veterans."

State Assemblymember Pat Fahy of the 109th district says legislative bodies have taken a strong stance in the fight to remove toxins from everyday life.

"We're trying to move away from the PFAS and PFOA or the 'forever chemicals' out of clothing," Fahy said. "We've done it out of food packaging, we know not only what our vets have been exposed to, we know every day there there is exposure because so many toxic chemicals have been become so prolific. We are spending billions to upgrade our water systems, because we should be able to take it for granted when we turn on our faucets that our water is safe. And that unfortunately has not been the case in a few areas. You've all heard of Flint, Michigan, Hoosick Falls, we've had major problems down in Rockland County."

The PACT Act supporters in Congress include West Point graduate and combat veteran Pat Ryan, a Democrat from New York’s 18th district.

"So, President Biden last year said, 'We need to do this, we're going to do this, put out that call to action.'And in that year’s time, we passed this landmark PACT Act legislation that allows my generation of post 911 veterans, Vietnam and other veterans to get better access to the care that they need," Ryan said.

Tonko says the PACT Act is one of the largest benefit expansions in the VA’s history and has the potential to help millions of vets who experienced toxic exposure – and their survivors —access benefits and care.

VFW Department of New York Service Officer Madison Fletcher says claims can be filed now by vets or survivors to apply for PACT Act-related benefits.

"The importance of getting people into the program is the amount of things that the VA has to offer," Fletcher said. "As far as health care, you know, anything that you can get service connected, the VA will cover, but it's outside of that too, the benefits for your family if you get service connected. You have to think about your legacy afterwards. A lot of veterans don't want to claim because they think they're taking from somebody else. You're not. That's not the case. You know, you've earned what you are entitled to."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.