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Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas touts new legislation for veterans

U.S. Senator John Boozman in the Republican Party of Arkansas headquarters in 2016 during a campaign interview.
File photo of U.S. Senator John Boozman who spoke to a veterans group Thursday about legislation intended to help those exposed to toxic waste.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas says recently passed legislation will help veterans who over the past few decades have been exposed to toxic waste.

At a roundtable meeting with veterans on Thursday, the senator discussed the “Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022.” It was approved with bipartisan support and signed into law last month by President Biden.

The bill aims to give health benefits to veterans suffering from exposure to toxic materials. As NPR reported in March, the Department of Veterans Affairs had routinely denied claims for ailments caused by such exposure.

“We’ve had so many veterans who have been exposed to toxic chemicals as a result of the Gulf Wars,” Boozman said in an interview after the meeting. “They have big burn pits that they burn for months. Many of the people in those areas, as a result, have developed rare cancers. We are seeing women veterans. They are developing breast cancer in certain cases.”

A similar law, the “Honoring Our Pact Act,” was passed by the House of Representatives in March. In June the bill passed the senate 84-14.

The legislation adds 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to the Veteran Administration’s list of service presumptions. Backers of the legislation say it’s intended to help veterans better access medical services.

The law provides resources to process claims, and expand the VA’s workforce and health care facilities. They expand presumptions related to agent orange and will strengthen federal research on such exposure.

“We're going to provide the VA with the most modern equipment in the world to treat it,” Boozman said.

He acknowledged the expanded care will be expensive, but says the benefits are needed.

“You ask these people to go off and serve and protect us, and there is very few of them percentage-wise, compared to most of our history. So they’re going off and serving men and women,” Boozman said, “the different areas of the world that we’re involved in.”

Response to Jan. 6 commission hearings

When asked in an interview after the event his thoughts about the House Select Committee Investigating the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Boozman declined to comment, saying he was there to discuss veterans. In May 2021, the Republican voted against establishing a committee to investigate what happened.

This story has been corrected to note the "Honoring Our Pact Act" was passed by the Senate in June.

Josie Lenora is a news anchor and reporter for UA Little Rock Public Radio. She grew up listening to KUAR and NPR News and says she is thrilled to give back to an organization she loves. Josie first interned in the fall of 2021 assisting in production for KUAR and KLRE, then in spring of 2022 spent a semester interning as a new anchor before joining the staff.