OPINION: The Honoring Our PACT Act Demands Justice for Pennsylvania Veterans Injured by Toxic Exposure at Military Bases

Currently, over 700 military installations across the country, including locally, are contaminated with "forever chemicals", also known as PFAS.
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Veterans encounter countless health risks while defending our country, from permanent hearing loss to serious combat injuries. Still, a less known threat to their health is toxic exposure, which occurs at nearly all military bases nationwide. Currently, over 700 military installations across the country are contaminated with “forever chemicals” as a result of firefighters and trainees excessively using AFFF, a highly toxic fire suppressant that sometimes contains 98 percent of these substances. Home to 15 military bases, Pennsylvania is no exception, as at least two of its facilities are heavily contaminated with “forever chemicals”, also known as PFAS.

Established in 1928 and located in Horsham Township, one of the military bases in Pennsylvania with a high PFAS concentration in the environment is Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove. The “forever chemicals” level at the military base is currently 188,179 parts per trillion, exceeding the safe exposure limit by a whopping 2,688 times. Nevertheless, other toxic chemicals might have been used at this military installation, as today, the drinking water supply of Horsham Township contains 20 contaminants over the maximum permissible limit, among which are chloroform, PFAS, arsenic, radium, nitrate, and dibromochloromethane.

READ: Important New PFAS Developments Increase Clean Water Protections, Access For Bucks County Communities

Another military base in the state with a high PFAS level in the environment is North Penn BRAC. Located in Worcester, the “forever chemicals” concentration at this facility is currently 33,270 parts per trillion, eclipsing the safe exposure limit by over 475 times. Exposure to PFAS is responsible for a multitude of terrible diseases, including cancer. Not only are these chemicals toxic to the service members serving on military bases, but also to the nearby communities since they are persistent contaminants that can easily infiltrate groundwater, as is the case of Horsham Township. As a consequence of past exposure to PFAS, many veterans now struggle with illnesses.

Until recently, veterans affected by toxic exposure at military bases often had a difficult time accessing the VA benefits they were entitled to. Nevertheless, on August 10, 2022, the Honoring Our PACT Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden, which is one of the largest benefit and healthcare expansion in VA history. The new legislative package expands and extends VA benefits for over five million service members and veterans impacted by toxic exposure on active duty. It adds more than 20 new presumptive conditions for veterans with toxic exposure and requires the VA to offer a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in its healthcare system.

One day after the Honoring Our PACT Act became effective, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was also signed into law, which is now part of the former. The military base, located in Jacksonville, North Carolina, has a grim legacy of toxic exposure, as between 1953 and 1987, its drinking water was contaminated with volatile organic compounds. At the Hadnot Point water plant, the trichloroethylene level exceeded the safe exposure limit by 280 times, whereas at Tarawa Terrace, the perchloroethylene level eclipsed it by 43 times. During this time, as many as 1million people lived at Camp Lejeune, all of whom were inevitably exposed to toxic drinking water.

Today, by virtue of the Honoring Our PACT Act, veterans whose health was compromised by exposure to harmful agents on military bases such as Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove can easily obtain the VA healthcare benefits and disability compensation they deserve for their unjust suffering. For decades, the military neglected the issue of water contamination at installations nationwide, which is why the problem is so acute now. For example, at Camp Lejeune, volatile organic compounds were found in the water only in 1982 by the U.S. Marine Corps when they had been present there since the establishment of the military base.

If you are a veteran injured by toxic exposure at military bases, regardless of where you live, it is important to know that you have the right to recover compensation for your illness. However, because the process of filing a VA claim is very complex and tedious, we advise you to contact a toxic exposure attorney, a claims agent, or a Veterans Service Officer. These professionals have the necessary knowledge, experience, and resources to assist you in properly filing your claim, which will increase your chances of having it accepted by the VA. Finally, if you are a Camp Lejeune veteran, it is essential to know that you are also eligible for compensation under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which will come from the U.S. government.

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Jonathan Sharp

Jonathan Sharp is Chief Financial Officer at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. Headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, the law firm provides assistance to veterans affected by toxic exposure at military bases nationwide. Jonathan Sharp is responsible for the management of firm assets, case evaluation, and financial analysis.

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