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Veterans should see if PACT Act can help

| October 26, 2022 12:00 AM

We write this letter with the hope of reaching as many Montana Veterans and their family members as possible regarding the recent passage of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester.

The PACT Act is a historic new law that expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans – and their survivors. It recognizes toxic exposure as a "cost of war" by addressing the full range of issues impacting toxic-exposed Veterans.

Native American Veterans serve their country at a higher rate per capita than any other demographic and have done so for decades, yet they utilize their earned benefits at the lowest rate of any demographic. This legislation is poised to have significant reach in Montana, a state with one of the highest percentages of veterans per capita in the country.

It’s estimated that there are 66,000 Montana veterans who were exposed, mostly through burn pits. Senator Tester, chairman of the US Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Committee, authored the PACT Act to cover the toxic exposure as a cost of war. That bill almost didn’t make it, largely because of disagreements over the expense of taking care of our veterans. Veterans sacrificed for us, now it’s time for us to sacrifice for them.

Instead of being supported for their service, every generation of veterans has had to fight for their benefits upon returning home. Rural veterans often have trouble accessing care because VA facilities in MT are either far away or backlogged - or both. It can take several months to get an appointment which usually requires hours of travel, only to be seen by non-native, non-veteran doctors, and therapists.

We need to provide our veterans with caring, experienced health professionals that are also veterans and/or Native Americans, who can relate to the patient’s situation and gain their trust. Patients should be able to keep their doctors and have greater access to appropriate care at more convenient locations. Veteran care should also focus on improving mental health, expanding telehealth, and increasing outreach for rural veterans, Tribes, and tribal organizations. We need to show them that good help is available and that it is OK to reach out for help.

Sen. Tester always fights for MT’s veterans, and we are thankful. Some congressmen “fist bumped” their united lack of support on the floor of Congress, while veterans are suffering from exposure to burn pits, lack of proper health care and most shameful of all, a lack of respect. Montana’s veterans deserve better than some are willing to give. If we can’t afford to support our veterans, then we shouldn’t be sending them to war (and the inevitable burn pits) in the first place.

We need to expand services to our Native and rural communities rather than selling out our Montana veterans. And to those veterans who were lucky enough to return home from their tours of duty, thank you for your service, and please take the first step in getting the VA health care you have earned and deserve.

— Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy, Crow Agency; Rep. Rynalea Whiteman Pena, Lame Deer

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