McDonough visits Santa Barbara to talk about health care for veterans exposed to toxins
The U.S. secretary of veteran affairs visited the V.A. clinic in Santa Barbara this week to promote a new law that helps veterans who were exposed to toxic hazards.
U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, who co-sponsored the Honoring Our Promises to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act, joined Secretary Denis Richard McDonough late Monday afternoon in front of the clinic on Calle Real. It was part of a trip that also took the secretary and congressman to the San Luis Obispo Veterans Center.
The legislation expands benefits for more than 3.5 million veterans who were potentially exposed to toxic and hazardous substances in the line of duty.
Signed by President Joe Biden in August, the law concedes exposure to burn pits and airborne hazards by creating presumptions for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers. According to Rep. Carbajal’s office, that shifts the burden of proof off veterans. If a veteran served in a particular area, the federal government will presume the veteran was exposed to toxic substances, meaning the veteran could be eligible for health care and other benefits.
Secretary McDonough noted that includes veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan or across the Central Command during the last 30 years.
“The new law, enacted by Mr. Carbajal and his teammates in Congress, covers Vietnam veterans as well,” Secretary McDonough told the News-Press and other local media as Rep. Carbajal listened Monday.
Mr. McDonough noted the law covers exposure to toxins such as Agent Orange.
“One of the things in Mr. Carbajal’s bill was a five-minute toxic exposure screening, available for all veterans,” Secretary McDonough said.
Mr. McDonough urged veterans to file claims and not to hesitate out of concern someone else needs the help. He said filing a claim does not come at someone else’s expense.
In fact, “you’re coming in to file your claims helps not only you but helps your battle buddies because we get a more complete picture of what veterans experienced in different situations.”
Secretary McDonough said the Department of Veteran Affairs has seen a 21% increase in the filing of claims over the same period last year since President Joe Biden signed the new law on Aug. 10.
“That’s about 70,000 claims associated primarily with the PACT Act,” he said. “I anticipate there are several million additional veterans who are eligible.”
Secretary McDonough said the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the new law will cost $400 billion over the next 10 years.
Rep. Carbajal noted that Jon Stewart, the former host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” helped to secure the PACT Act’s passage by bringing attention to it. Mr. Stewart has joined lawmakers to talk to the media about the law.
In addition to promoting the PACT Act, Secretary McDonough talked to veterans, staff and advocates at the clinics in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Rep. Carbajal said the secretary is learning what people believe is working and not working in healthcare for veterans.
Secretary McDonoguh, who was invited to visit the Tri-Counties by Rep. Carbajal, said the area is especially important because of its bases such as Vandenberg Space Force Base. “It means we have a lot of veterans seeking care.
“Unfortunately, too often, they’re unaware of the services available to them because we do not do a good enough job of explaining what’s available to them.”