Now Law, the Congresswoman’s Legislation was Inspired by William G. Collins, a U.S. Air Force Veteran from Louisa County in Virginia’s Seventh District Living with Parkinson’s
HENRICO, V.A. — President Joe Biden today signed into law U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger’s legislation to investigate the long-term, negative health impacts of jet fuel exposure on America’s servicemembers.
Multiple studies show that long-term exposure to jet fuel among veterans can be a significant factor in developing neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease. However, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) does not currently recognize the service connection.
The Spanberger-led amendment passed in the U.S. House last month as part of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which then passed in the U.S. Senate last week by a vote of 86 to 11. Her legislation presses the VA to compile additional research on the health threats of jet fuel exposure. With this additional information, lawmakers and the VA would be able to take steps to make sure veterans suffering from diseases due to their exposure to jet fuel receive the VA support and benefits they deserve.
Spanberger’s legislation is drawn from her bipartisan William Collins Jet Fuel Exposure Recognition Act, which she introduced last year. Spanberger named the bill in honor of William G. Collins — a U.S. Air Force veteran and Louisa County resident living with Parkinson’s. The VA does not currently recognize Mr. Collins’ condition as having a service connection.
“For far too long, America’s veterans and servicemembers suffering from the long-term impacts of jet fuel exposure — like Virginian and former U.S. Air Force fire chief William Collins — have been denied the benefits afforded to their brothers and sisters in arms. Throughout his service to our great nation, Mr. Collins endured constant jet fuel exposure and sacrificed his own safety for that of his fellow airmen. Every American servicemember who accepted this risk and answered the call to serve deserves our strongest support,” said Spanberger.
Spanberger continued, “Our nation’s toxic-exposed veterans and veterans’ advocates have for decades pushed to level the care available to all those who put on the uniform, and today’s accomplishment is undoubtedly due to their tireless work. With the Honoring Our PACT Act now law, we are making decades-overdue progress to help the VA fulfill its promise to care for all veterans who have borne the battle.”
Earlier this year, Spanberger spoke on the House floor to highlight the stories of multiple Virginia veterans — including Mr. Collins — who have had long-term challenges related to exposures during their military service. Click here to watch her remarks.
The Honoring Our PACT Act will also:
- Expand VA healthcare 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;
- 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 healthcare facilities.
Spanberger’s legislation builds on her efforts to seek justice and recognition for Virginia veterans suffering from diseases related to toxic exposure.
Last year, she reintroduced her bipartisan bill — the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act — to provide veteran firefighters with the fair compensation, healthcare, and retirement benefits they’ve earned through their service. The bipartisan legislation is named after Powhatan County, Virginia resident Michael Lecik, a former U.S. Air Force firefighter who was twice deployed to the Middle East. Following his military service, Lecik became a civilian firefighter and then became chief fire inspector at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee. Lecik passed away in March of last year. In May 2021, Spanberger honored his life on the floor of the U.S. House.
And in December 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law Spanberger’s legislation to recognize America’s Atomic Veterans as part of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. Spanberger’s legislation requires the President to issue a proclamation every year calling on the United States to observe National Atomic Veterans Day — which he recognized last month for the second year in a row.
Due to their exposure to unsafe levels of radiation during their service, many of these Atomic Veterans developed serious health complications. Additionally, as these veterans were sworn to secrecy, many of them were prevented from seeking medical care or disability compensation and were never fully recognized for their sacrifice.
On July 16, 2021, Spanberger spoke alongside Central Virginia veterans on National Atomic Veterans Day to recognize the critical role Atomic Veterans played in protecting the United States. Spanberger was joined by Central Virginia veterans — as well as representatives from the National Association of Atomic Veterans, the American Legion, the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, the Fawn Lake Veterans Group, and the Virginia War Memorial.