House OKs veterans health care bill that covers Agent Orange exposure on Guam
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill that would extend health benefits to millions of toxin-exposed veterans, including those presumed to have been exposed to herbicides while stationed on Guam.
S. 3373, which was passed by a vote of 342-88, heads to the president's desk where signature is assured, according to Congressman Michael San Nicolas.
The bill carries a comprehensive veterans package that includes Agent Orange exposure coverage for veterans who served on Guam between Jan. 9, 1962 and July 31, 1980.
"We are overwhelmed that this provision we worked so hard for has finally passed, for those veterans who now can pursue claims, and for Guam which now has federally recognized Agent Orange consequences on the island," said San Nicolas.
The bill is titled "Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act of 2022."
"Not only does this success mean that affected veterans can finally seek compensation, it also means that Guam can begin further work to explore expanding Agent Orange exposure consequences throughout the island, opening the door for us to make our case that community impact needs consideration," San Nicolas said.
The Toxins Act is expected to benefit 3.5 million veterans who currently do not have access to health and medical care benefits for toxin-related illnesses that were not recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In his remarks prior to the bill's passage, Rep. Mark Takano, chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said the Toxins Act offered an opportunity "to make good on the promise we made to our servicemembers when our country sent them into harm’s way: that we would take care of them – and pay for that care – when they come home."
"For too long, veterans have faced an uphill battle to prove that the rare illnesses and cancers they were experiencing stemmed from their time in the military," Takano said.
He noted that Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs have been slow in accepting responsibility and recognizing the cost of care. "Today, we can finally recognize toxic exposure as a cost of war," Takano added.