WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed the PACT Act, a bill expanding health care access for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
Survivors and the loved ones of victims were at the White House for the emotional ceremony.
Veteran Ken Brownell said the day was “a great emotional release.”
“I’ve been fighting for this for years,” veteran Brandi Benson said.
Before Wednesday, many veterans say they suffered in the shadows.
“This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans,” Biden said.
Veteran John Baenen said he and his entire troop returned home with invisible wounds and conditions the VA refused to treat.
“I was 28 years old and did a cat scan … they told me I had the bone structure of a 58-year-old man,” he said. “We’re recognized now. We couldn’t even get the government to recognize us.”
The president said starting immediately, veterans can get coverage for 23 health care conditions that were previously denied.
For Danielle Robinson and many other families, the coverage comes too late. Danielle Robinson is the widow of Heath Robinson, who the bill is named after.
“It’s just bittersweet,” Danielle Robinson said. “He was around a burn pit for three months in Iraq.”
Their daughter was by the president’s side during the signing.
“I didn’t see this coming at all when we were fighting our battle, but I’m grateful for it happening. And I’m grateful for being the face of this if I had to be,” Danielle Robinson said.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough said his administration is already hiring thousands to handle an influx of patients no longer in the shadows.
“The VA is ready to take this on,” McDonough said.