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VA to get big boost under proposed budget, questions remain about 'PACT' Act

The bill, which passed House in March, would pay for care for vets who suffer from toxic exposure. But the measure faces an uncertain fate in Senate.

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough offered high praise for the proposed $301.4 billion Fiscal Year 2023 VA budget--an 11% increase over the year before.

"This budget shows how deeply the president and our country value veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors," he said Thursday, testifying before the House Veterans Affairs Committee. "They are the backbone of America. They deserve our very best with this budget. That's exactly what we'll give them."

McDonough said the bill will save lives when it comes to suicide prevention and COVID-19 treatment. Additionally, he said it will get 39,000 homeless veterans into permanent housing by the end of this calendar year.

McDonough also spoke about the Honoring Our PACT Act.

The bill would help an estimated 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to burn pits overseas since 1991 by establishing a list of 23 cancers and respiratory illnesses presumed to be linked to the poisonous smoke. 

"It will help us deliver the toxic exposure benefits that veterans deserve as fast as possible," McDonough said.

The measure passed in the House in early March, despite some objections about the cost.

"The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) estimate on the PACT Act, which the administration is strongly supporting, will cost more than $325 billion, but the budget is silent on those costs and the operational impact of implementing the legislation," said Rep. Mike Bost (R-Illinois).

But the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Mark Takano (D-California), said the nation must take care of veterans, whatever it costs.

"What message are we sending to our veterans when we break the sacred promise we've made to care for them and their families?" he said.

The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans have all called upon the Senate to pass the bill.

But, there's still no indication on when the Senate might act upon the measure.

On another note, under questioning from Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Virginia, 2nd District), Secretary McDonough confirmed that no existing VA facility in Hampton Roads will close until newer, community-based clinics and medical centers are constructed and open.

A VA study released earlier this month recommended closing the 152-year old Hampton VA Medical Center.

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