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WKYT Investigates UPDATE | Toxic water victims applaud House passage of PACT Act

The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate, where its future is unclear.
WKYT Investigates | Toxic water at Camp Lejeune
WKYT Investigates | Toxic water at Camp Lejeune(WKYT)
Published: Mar. 3, 2022 at 5:14 PM EST
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WASHINGTON (WKYT) - The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a package of legislation that includes language to allow for what advocates call “long overdue” judicial relief for veterans and family members exposed to toxic water on a U.S. military base.

Lawmakers voted 256-174 on Thursday to approve the bill, H.R.3967, also known as the Honoring Our PACT Act. The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate, where its future is unclear.

The legislation is designed to expand access to care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service.

[More on the Honoring Our PACT Act: House backs bill to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits]

It also includes language from the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, sponsors say, allowing claims from victims exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune to be heard in court, enabling them to present evidence for harm caused by exposure.

Only two Kentucky congressmen – Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) – voted in favor of the legislation. Four others – Reps. Andy Barr, James Comer, Brett Guthrie and Hal Rogers, all Republicans – voted against it.

[See the roll call vote result here.]

In response to WKYT’s request for comment, a spokesperson for Barr defended the congressman’s vote and reiterated his support for another piece of related legislation he is sponsoring.

“Congressman Barr strongly supports delivering healthcare and benefits to veterans who suffered toxic exposure during their military service,” said Alex Bellizzi, Barr’s communications director. “That is why he is calling on Speaker Pelosi to bring the bipartisan Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act up for a vote in the House.

“This creates a sustainable process for granting VA benefits to veterans impacted by toxic exposure without creating massive new backlogs at the VA that will hurt veterans already waiting for their benefits,” Bellizzi said.

Previous coverage:

U.S. government officials have admitted that water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with toxins from leaking storage tanks on the base and a dry cleaner off the base. The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges those exposed as veterans who served on the base at least 30 days total between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987.

The Marine Corps base is in North Carolina, but thousands of Kentuckians are believed to have gone through there while the water was toxic. More than 4,400 people in Kentucky are registered through the military for notifications on the issue, although that number is not necessarily limited only to those exposed.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act seeks to correct what the bill sponsors call an “anomaly in the application of” existing North Carolina law that prevented lawsuits from being filed in the federal court system where the base is located.

[More from The Hill: Camp Lejeune toxic water victims eye justice as pivotal House bill passes]

As many as one million military and civilian staff and their families might have been exposed to the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, according to estimates from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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