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Senator Hassan and Representative Pappas Discuss Their Landmark Military Toxic Exposure Bill with NH Veterans Groups After President Signs Bill Into Law

MANCHESTER – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Representative Chris Pappas (NH-01) discussed the historic, bipartisan military toxic exposure legislation that they crafted, which will deliver to all generations of veterans exposed to toxic substances the VA health care and benefits that they need. The legislation includes provisions from the bipartisan Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act that Senator Hassan introduced more than a year ago and continued to push for throughout negotiations. The legislation also includes Pappas’s VA Workforce Investment and Expansion Act, which would expand VA’s workforce by enhancing VA hiring practices and incentives to better recruit and retain health care professionals, and strengthen veteran access to quality VA health care.

“For generations, our service members have grappled with the devastating consequences of toxic exposure, and for too long our country has failed to fully recognize these invisible wounds and injuries,” said Senator Hassan. “That changes with the PACT Act – our historic law works to ensure that no veteran is left behind. The advocacy of veterans and Veterans Service Organizations across New Hampshire was instrumental in making this a reality, and I am grateful for their service and their efforts to share their stories and push to make a difference.”  

“Millions of veterans across the country who live with the effects of toxic exposures to this day will now have access to the care they need following the passage of the PACT Act,” said Congressman Pappas. “New Hampshire’s veterans and our Veterans Service Organizations were pivotal in securing the passage of this legislation, and I want to thank them for their ongoing commitment to improving health care for all veterans. I’m honored to work alongside them to ensure our veterans have access to the care and services they need.”

“I have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. I lived next to a burn pit, I’ve lived in an area in Uzbekistan, north of Afghanistan. I don't know what we lived on, but a pond that we lived next to would change colors every day. So you know that's the fear I live in,” said Chief Allen Aldenberg, Manchester Police and Army National Guard veteran. “What a lot of veterans of my generation are living in is that fear of: ‘when’s the foot going to drop? When am I going to feel something? When am I going to go to a doctor and get that horrible diagnosis?’ That's a choice we make, and I don't regret. Like all the veterans here don't regret the service that I did. But the fact that two of you and your colleagues got this done shows what America can do when we work together.”

“This is so good and impactful – and it is so needed. I think one of the biggest things for me is the Thailand and expanded Agent Orange exposure, because I am seeing my clients pass away, rapidly, and I am having to do surviving spouse claims. Especially with Thailand, we’re having to bring stuff to the Board of Veterans Appeals -- and we’re having to wait, because it was such a specific exposure, because it wasn’t presumptive before,” said Jamie Cummings, New Hampshire Office of Veterans Services. “This stuff is life changing, that’s the best way to describe it is life changing.”

“I am hypertensive so this bill impacts me directly, very directly. I have a number of younger officers in our association who have served in various places over time and this is going to be a godsend – not just on my people but on many, many people,” said Robert Jaffin, New Hampshire Military Officers Association of America.  

“I think this is another amazing, amazing step. Like Blue Water Navy, like Camp Lejeune, and like the presumption of Agent Orange, it’s another step for what I hope is the ultimate goal for health care for all veterans, regardless of when or where they served. Unfortunately right now in the VA system you’re either broke or you’re broken in order to get in. So if you, like myself, do 30 years in the United States Navy, and you get out and aren’t physically broken, you aren’t going to get VA health care.” Bill Gaudreau, New Hampshire Office of Veteran Services. “I hope this is another step toward that goal. I’d like to see a thankful nation thanking our veterans in that way.”

In addition to discussing the ways that the bill will help veterans, Senator Hassan, Congressman Pappas, and participants discussed the need for the VA to conduct outreach to veterans and implement the law as effectively as possible.

Among its many priorities, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 that Senator Hassan, Congressman Pappas, and colleagues developed will:

  • Expand VA health care eligibility to Post-9/11 combat veterans, which includes more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans;
  • Create a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure;
  • Add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s list of service presumptions, including hypertension;
  • Expand presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure;
    • Includes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll as locations for Agent Orange exposure;
  • Strengthen federal research on toxic exposure;
  • Improve VA’s resources and training for toxic-exposed veterans; and
  • Set VA and veterans up for success by investing in:
    • VA claims processing;
    • VA’s workforce; and
    • VA health care facilities.