Houlahan Urges VA Secretary to Improve Outreach to Veterans on Toxic Exposure Legislation
WEST CHESTER, PA – Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) recently gathered veterans, family members of veterans, and veterans advocates at the West Chester American Legion Post #134 to discuss the Honoring Our PACT Act, a comprehensive health care bill addressing exposure to burn pits and Agent Orange among other issues. The hour-long conversation focused on the rollout of the legislation and how to better educate veterans on the new benefits Houlahan voted for (the House passed the bill 342-88) and President Biden signed into law earlier this year.
“It became apparent early in our conversation that we must do more to educate veterans and their families about the benefits of this really historic piece of legislation,” said Houlahan. “I’m a third-generation veteran, and in fact my father served in Vietnam. Part of this bill expands benefits for Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange—it’s important they know that because, sadly, we are losing that generation. This legislation also delivers on an overdue promise to care for our veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. While there is a lot of good in this bill, it doesn’t help our veterans if they don’t know about it. I want to fix that.”
Following the conversation, Houlahan wrote to Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis R. McDonough urging a comprehensive public awareness campaign to ensure veterans understand how the Honoring Our PACT Act can help them. This letter comes ahead of a December 1, 2022 deadline for Secretary McDonough to submit an outreach plan to Congress.
Houlahan’s letter reads in part: “While I applaud the VA’s efforts to keep its website up to date with relevant information for our veterans, many veterans rely on information from local and state resources to access and understand their eligibility for care and benefits. That is why it is imperative the VA consider the needs of veterans from a local and community-based perspective as you develop your outreach plan and educational resources on the reforms provided under the PACT Act. I also urge the VA to ensure the outreach plan clearly provides educational and outreach resources for facilities, clinics, and veteran centers in rural areas.”
The full text of Houlahan’s letter to Secretary McDonough can be found here.
Some participants of Houlahan’s Honoring Our PACT Act roundtable included West Chester American Legion Post #134 Commander Howard Crawford, Kennett Square American Legion Post #491 Commander Cindy Abbadini, Director of the Chester County Department of Veterans’ Affairs Susan Price, and the Rapp Family.
“As American Legion Post Commanders, it’s our duty to take care of the veterans in our community,” said Commanders Crawford and Abbadini. “We know there are important aspects of this legislation that will improve the lives of many right here in Chester County, but we need help reaching the folks who this legislation impacts the most—that’s where federal resources come in. We are grateful for Representative Houlahan’s efforts and outreach regarding the Honoring Our PACT Act, and, as a veteran herself, we know she takes this as seriously as we do.”
“We have a goal to reach every last veteran in Chester County,” said Price. “Some people tell me that’s an impossible task, but we must try—our veterans deserve it. I want everyone to know how dedicated we are to helping veterans and their family members get the help they’ve earned. This conversation was incredibly insightful as my office works to make sure veterans can access the expanded benefits in the Honoring Our PACT Act.”
Jean Rapp, who is a caretaker for her veteran brother, said she’s been having difficulty finding information on how to help her brother access benefits. Director Price reiterated her commitment and connected with the family.
Other participants included Vicki Dash-Sleskinki, Post #491 Finance Officer; John Fredericks, current Army officer and member of Post #134; Mark Pontzer, current Army officer and Assistant Director of Human Resources at West Chester Area School District; and retired veterans Stan Lieberman and John Skeenock.
To reach Chester County Veterans Affairs, visit www.chesco.org/155/Veterans-Affairs.
More information about the PACT Act and VA benefits can be found here.
Houlahan is an Air Force veteran, an engineer, a serial entrepreneur, an educator, and a nonprofit leader. She represents Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, which encompasses Chester County and southern Berks County. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Small Business Committee. She is the recipient of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Abraham Lincoln Leadership for America Award which “recognizes members who demonstrate the bipartisan leadership and constructive governing necessary to move our country forward” and the Congressional Management Foundation’s 2022 Democracy Award for best Constituent Services in Congress.