NEW JERSEY — U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) Monday announced that after months of debt ceiling negotiations, he helped successfully secure a $20 billion dollar investment for the PACT Act Toxic Exposure Fund — a $15 billion dollar increase to get much needed healthcare to veterans who were exposed to burn pits and toxic substances during their service.
Gottheimer helped stop far-right extremists from gutting healthcare and benefits for veterans, slashing investments for our military and law enforcement, crashing our economy, and putting America’s leadership in the world at risk.
Last year, working with the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which he Co-Chairs, Gottheimer helped pass the bipartisan PACT Act to expand VA-provided healthcare and services to nearly 3.5 million Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan-era veterans — including thousands across New Jersey — who were exposed to burn pits and toxic substances. Included in the PACT Act is a key bipartisan provision authored by Gottheimer to address the mental health impacts of toxic exposure for veterans.
Some of the U.S. military open-air burn pits that exposed our service members to toxic chemicals during deployments were the size of football fields and were used to incinerate everything from used medical supplies and electronics to garbage and human waste.
The VA estimates that 2.6 million veterans were exposed to Agent Orange alone, and over 300,000 veterans died after being exposed to this dangerous toxic chemical.
As of March 2021, of the more than 200,000 veterans who were signed up for the VA’s burn pit registry — 70 percent of claims had been denied. Of the more than 15,000 with disability compensation claims related to burn pit exposure, only 3,500 veterans had at least one claim granted.
This new investment will help improve research, staff education, and treatment related to toxic exposures, and it will get the VA the resources it needs to more efficiently process claims.
The PACT Act:
- Expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for veterans with toxic exposures and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras. It will expand benefits and services to roughly 3.5 million veterans.
- Creates a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure.
- Expands the VA’s list of service presumptive conditions for burn pits and other toxic exposures.
- Requires the VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in VA health care.
- Helps improve research, staff education, and treatment related to toxic exposures, and improves resources to support VA’s claims processing.
Gottheimer’s provision signed into law within the bipartisan PACT Act will:
- Examine and address veteran mental health impacts of toxic exposure: Gottheimer’s provision directs the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to examine the possible relationship between toxic exposures experienced during service in the Armed Forces and mental health outcomes.
“We know, unfortunately and tragically — because of the harms of toxic exposure — our veterans are sick and dying. This new investment is a huge, historic win for veterans in New Jersey and across the country. They will finally receive the VA-provided care and benefits they deserve, and, with my provision, we’ll be able to examine the impacts toxic exposure has on our veterans’ mental health. These are federal dollars being clawed back to help our veterans right here in Jersey,” Gottheimer said. “I can’t think of anything more un-American than putting party before the health and care of our nation’s veterans — the very people who risked their lives, left their families behind while they went to fight, and made unimaginable sacrifices so that all of us can be safe and free here at home. The bipartisan debt ceiling legislation wasn’t perfect, but we stopped extremists from gutting healthcare and benefits for veterans, crashing our economy, and putting our leadership in the world at risk.”
“Some of my deployments during my time included Saudi Arabia, Operation Desert Strike and Operation Southern Watch at Prince Sultan Air Base and other parts of the region including Bahrain where I was directly exposed to burn pits and toxic chemicals,” said Paramus, New Jersey resident and former U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Arnie O’Callaghan, who was exposed to toxic chemicals during deployment to the Middle East. “Recently, President Biden and Speaker McCarthy negotiated the debt ceiling and spending bill which I was following, because the outcome could have been detrimental to our veterans’ healthcare and benefits. I was concerned and it caused me a lot of stress having filed a claim under the PACT ACT which is still pending. With the tireless work and effort put in by Josh Gottheimer on behalf of our veterans for the state of New Jersey and the rest of the country he and other members fought to protect our veterans. And thanks to Josh Gottheimer, veterans’ benefits were protected and an increase in funding for the PACT Act was secured.”
More than 300,000 veterans live in New Jersey, including more than 25,000 in Bergen County alone.
Gottheimer was joined at Bergenfield’s Veterans Memorial Park by Paramus resident and former U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Arnie O’Callaghan, former Army Specialist 4 and three-time Purple Heart Vietnam War veteran Arnold O’Callaghan, Bergenfield Mayor Arvin Amatorio, Council President Marc Pascual, Councilman Buddy Deauna, Councilman Domingo Almonte, Director of Bergen County Veterans Services Shaun Hutchinson, David Pearson, SOS Vets and Catholic Charities, Commander of Bergenfield VFW Post #6467 Warren Williams, and local North Jersey veterans.