Kansas Common Sense
U.S. Senate Passes Historic Toxic Exposure Legislation
On Thursday, the Senate passed the most comprehensive toxic exposure package ever considered in our nation’s history. The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 will deliver all veterans suffering from toxic exposure health care and benefits under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Since September 11, 2001, up to 3.5 million deployed servicemembers have potentially encountered toxic exposures from burn pits. During deployment to a war zone, military personnel are often exposed to toxic hazards, many of which have been associated with chronic health issues. Until almost 2010, the U.S. military kept burn pits on bases for the disposal of chemicals, plastics, medical waste and other substances that were burned with jet fuel, creating toxic smoke.
Currently, the VA can provide service-connected disability claims related to burn pit exposures. However, due to a lack of evidence, scientific data and information from the Department of Defense, at least 70% of claims are denied.
As a nation, we recognize the physical, obvious wounds of war. We are improving our ability to recognize and treat the mental wounds of war, though we still have a long ways to go. No longer can we ignore the wounds of war from toxic exposures. Veterans suffering from toxic exposures have been relying on a broken system cobbled together through decades of patchwork fixes that often leaves them without health care or benefits.
Over the past two years, nearly every veterans service organization (VSO) has testified before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and emphasized the importance of fixing the process VA uses to provide health care and benefits to toxic-exposed veterans. Sen. Jon Tester and I have worked in a bipartisan fashion with these VSOs, veterans, advocates, the VA and our Senate colleagues to craft a comprehensive bill to deliver all generations of toxic-exposed veterans long-overdue health care and benefits.
This bipartisan legislation I introduced with Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) as leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee took a consequential step to honor our commitment to care for America’s veterans and their families and will provide comprehensive relief for all generations of veterans, from Agent Orange to the post-9/11 veterans exposed to burn pits during their deployments.
Once signed into law, our nation’s veterans and their families will no longer have to fear being turned away the VA for illnesses related to toxic exposures.
You can read my op-ed with Sen. Tester here in Stars & Stripes. You can also watch my full remarks on the U.S. Senate Floor before the final vote here.
In Honor of SFC Heath Robinson
This legislation is named in honor of SFC Heath Robinson, an Ohio Army National Guardsman who answered the call to serve our nation in the years following 9/11. He was a son, husband and father. After his service, he was diagnosed with a rare cancer caused by prolonged exposure to toxic substances. In 2020, the cancer cost him his life. Heath left behind an 8-year-old daughter, a wife and an extended family who are now committed to ensuring this country provides other veterans suffering from toxic exposures health care and benefits.
For far too long, our nation’s veterans have been living with chronic illnesses as a result of exposures during their time in uniform. This week, the Senate took the opportunity to right this wrong and provide veterans and their families with the health care and benefits they have earned and deserve.
What Kansas Veterans Are Saying
This bill is culmination of years of work, informed by veterans both in Kansas and across the nation. The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson PACT Act would not have been on the floor this week without the hard work of numerous Veterans Service Organizations, veteran families, survivors and advocates and veterans themselves who came to Washington to meet with Sen. Tester and I, and who testified before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Thank you for your service and thank you for your work in helping us deliver long-lasting solutions and comprehensive reforms for those who served our country.
Lee Hursey, Commander for the State of Kansas Veterans of Foreign Wars:
“On Behalf of the State of Kansas Veterans of foreign Wars, VFW and its 16,000 plus members and especially those veterans and their families that will be drastically affected by the PACT Act we thank and salute you for your efforts to get this bill to the floor of the United States Senate to be voted on. Your desire to get the best possible outcome for those veterans exposed to Toxic substances that could endanger their health has been noted and appreciated. Kansas VFW realizes the work that you do so tirelessly for veterans and all citizens of the United States and wants you to know that you are truly appreciated.”
Jeremy Ehart, Department Commander of the Department of Kansas The American Legion:
“The Kansas Department of The American Legion wholeheartedly endorses and supports the proposed legislation that Sen. Moran and Tester have worked in a bipartisan fashion with the VA, other VSOs, and advocates to craft the SFC Heath Robinson Act.”
William Turner, Director of Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs Office and former Deputy Commanding General of Support for Fort Riley’s First Infantry Division:
“I greatly appreciate the extensive research and work that has been done by Senators Moran and Tester to effect legislation that rightfully would guarantee veterans who have been exposed to toxic environments and are suffering respiratory conditions, cancer and other associated illnesses permanent access to VA health care. Our Veterans have served in multiple locations where they have been exposed to a number of toxins that have resulted in them developing serious illnesses and they often struggle to gain access to health care and benefits that can help alleviate some of the pain and suffering they are experiencing. It is absolutely imperative that we enact the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Pact Act of 2022, as amended, to both guarantee exposed Veterans the permanent access to VA health care and also continue to establish a list of conditions that are presumed linkages to the toxic exposures thus enabling Veterans to receive their full benefits.”
Eric Owens, Disabled American Veterans Department of Kansas Adjutant:
“On behalf of the DAV Department of Kansas and our members, we fully support the Honoring Our PACT Act. It will provide healthcare and benefits to thousands of Kansas veterans that have been exposed to Agent Orange, radiation, contaminated water, burn pits and other environmental hazards. Many of our members are suffering from illnesses caused by these exposures and in many cases, they do not have access to VA health care and benefits. We are extremely grateful for Senator Moran’s leadership, bipartisanship and commitment to the men and women who have served this nation. The Honoring Our PACT Act will have a lasting positive impact on toxic exposed veterans, their families, and survivors. Again, we thank Senator Moran for his dedication to finding a solution to the puzzle of exposure legislation.”
Lee Tafanelli, Major General (Ret.) and former Adjutant General of Kansas:
“Our veterans have fought for this country. By no means should they have to fight the bureaucracy to get the necessary medical care they deserve. This landmark legislation fulfills the basic and sacred promise that we make to our veterans when we send them off to war. The promise that we will provide them the necessary VA medical care and disability benefits when they return must be honored. The legislation that you championed will have a great impact in the lives of our veterans long after their service. The knowledge that the obstacles formerly in their way have now been streamlined will provide peace of mind as our veterans move on with their lives. Access to the necessary healthcare for illnesses that have occurred as a result of their exposure to toxins during their deployment is an absolute necessity.”
David T. Dennis, Colonel, United States Air Force (Ret.) and Sedgwick County Commissioner:
“On behalf of all my brothers and sisters who wore the uniform of the United States to support and defend our Constitution, I strongly support the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring PACT Act of 2022. As a member of the Sedgwick County Board of Health, and the Chairman of the Sedgwick County Commission, it is our job to provide health services to those in need. As a retired Air Force Colonel, it is my job to use my position to advocate for all active duty and military veterans. I sincerely appreciate your dedicated support for this legislation and for your steadfast support for our nation’s veterans.”
Dr. Arthur DeGroat, Lieutenant Colonel (Ret)., U.S. Army, Kansas Governor’s Military Council:
“As a combat veteran and military leader, I saw firsthand the effects of burn pits and its subsequent toxic exposure impacts on the lives of my soldiers. I have also witnessed many technical and manufacturing (packaging) innovations that would reduce the logistical waste that results in the primitive use of fire to burn refuse at great risk to soldiers, civilians, host nationals and the physical environment. This primitive martial practice must be stopped—and I feel your legislation will not only care for those effected—but improve the overall nature of combat deployments. Moreover, advances in military logistics will now have the impetus to innovate to reduce the waste footprint of harmful byproducts of wartime materials. I commend your expert leadership in this very important policy matter as both a veteran and citizen leader.”
General Mike Dodson (Ret.) former commander of Fort Riley First Infantry Division and Kansas State Representative:
“As a veteran myself, I have in the past given little thought to the hazards other than those presented by the enemy or those who would do us harm and what I might characterize as the standard health and safety measures we have practiced for decades. The first ‘non-standard hazard’ I encountered was ‘Agent Orange.’ The dangers were not known to us during our service in Vietnam, but certainly became an issue some years later. Likewise, in Desert Storm, while we were aware of some of the possible hazards (such as chemicals), the locations were largely unknow. The dangers presented by oil fires and burn pits were certainly suspected, but not easy to avoid. Servicemen and women have suffered various ailments and have long sought to have these hazards recognized by the VA as being causal factors. I applaud your actions and that of your Senate colleagues. This legislation will give hope to those veterans who are searching for answers to their suffering. It will also fulfill our commitment to them for the sacrifices they have made in the service of our country.”
Herbert Schwartzkopf, Kansas VFW Adjutant/Quartermaster:
“On behalf of Ransom VFW Post 7972, Ransom, Kansas, and the millions of United States Veterans out there, I wish to sincerely thank you for bringing the PACT ACT to the floor of the Senate for a vote. I know you will eventually do as you originally planned to get dates and dollars implemented into this bill so it will benefit not only the veterans and their families affected, but the entire nation. The work that you do so tirelessly for veterans and all citizens of the United States is totally appreciated and will not be forgotten.”
Pat Proctor, Colonel (Ret.) U.S. Army and Kansas State Representative:
"As a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, I know so many of my fellow veterans who are suffering from the negative effects of toxic exposure during their service in-theater. And there is no telling how many of us will be impacted as we get older. I am so incredibly grateful to Senator Moran for leading this effort, standing with those of us who served, and seeing that our nation meets its obligation to those who risked their lives in its defense."
Paul Chapa, founder of Friends in Service of Heroes:
“Senator Moran and Senator Tester have my thanks and that of Friends In Service of Heroes for not forgetting our veterans. This is indeed a long time in the making and only pray it will save the lives of those that have suffered from the various toxic exposure. Thank you for letting them all know, that service mattered and still matters today.”
Timothy Marlar, Colonel (Ret), of Newton:
“It took too long for the VA provide relief for those exposed to Agent Orange. We cannot pass on the opportunity pass the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 and recognize the hazards of the exposure of military personnel to toxic substances. Our military personnel served overseas or stationed at home has been an ongoing issue. These exposures have resulted in conditions and illnesses among veterans which can have far reaching effects on health and quality of life of these heroes. I believe the PACT Act is move in the right direction towards honoring the service of our service members and providing medical treatment and disability compensation they have earned.”
John C. Buckley, Colonel, (Ret.) U.S. Army of Andover:
“I unequivocally support the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Pact Act of 2022. During my 33 years of military service, I sometimes had to order my troops to go into harm’s way. During training, I sometimes expected them to do very dangerous things. But before I ordered them to do those things, I assessed the risk and instituted the best mitigating actions which would ensure their safety and survival. Reinforcing my actions was my firm belief that we would take care of them, or their family, if they suffered an injury or fatality during any of these missions. ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.’ Our Soldiers were put into dangerous situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And many who suffered from their wounds or made the ultimate sacrifice have been cared for by our nation. Unfortunately, many too have been overlooked and ignored. Especially those who are suffering injuries after having recurring and prolonged exposure to toxic fumes, burn pits and other environmental hazards. Our country has turned their back on these heroes. These overlooked men and women are clearly suffering from the toll of armed conflict. I commend you for your interest in our veteran community. And I sincerely applaud the bipartisan effort and support to deliver the care to our veterans who sacrificed everything to ensure our country sustained its freedom and liberty. My Soldiers, our nation’s treasure, followed my difficult orders and directions because they trusted me, and they trusted that their nation would take care of them or their families if our mission went awry. Your Act will re-establish this trust that our service men and women, and their families have in our nation’s leaders, that they will honor the pact.”
Wounded Warrior Project CEO Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Mike Linnington:
“This toxic exposure bill will literally save the lives of countless veterans. Thousands of veterans and supporters made their voices heard on Capitol Hill. We want to thank every U.S. Senator who supported the vital legislation. Sen. Moran deserves a lot of credit for working in a bipartisan way to get this bill across the finish line. Now we’re calling on the U.S. House to quickly follow suit and send this bill to President Biden for his signature.”
Nearly two months after the Civil War ended, enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned of the end of the war and that they were now free. Kansas is known as the state “where slavery began to die.”
Our state has an important history and role in ending slavery in the U.S., and this Juneteenth we honor freedom and continue striving to form a more perfect union.
Happy Father’s Day
Being a dad to my two girls is the greatest joy in my life, except for maybe being “Pop.”
My dad was someone I greatly admired and looked up to. I want to wish all my fellow dads a happy Father’s Day.
Kansas City Scores World Cup Bid
The FIFA World Cup is coming to Kansas City! Over the past five years, the greater Kansas City area has pulled together in remarkable ways to demonstrate to those around the globe that “We Want The World Cup.” And that hard work has paid off. I have no doubt Kansas City will be an outstanding host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and I look forward to welcoming fans from around the world to the heartland!
Oversight of the VA Budget
This week, the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee held a hearing to examine the Department of Veterans Affairs FY2023 budget request. This budget request sets another record for the VA at more than $300 billion for the delivery of veterans health care, disability compensation payments, educational assistance, veterans cemeteries and other programs. When we send our nation’s men and women to war, we commit to provide them any needed support when they come home, and I believe we must not shrink from delivering that support regardless of the cost. Our duty as stewards of taxpayer dollars is to ensure VA, in its request for funding and in its expenditures, has the resources it needs for its mission and delivers the health care and benefits veterans deserve in a fiscally responsible way. I was pleased VA Secretary Denis McDonough was able to certify to me and to our committee that VA would have the resources it needs to implement the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act, which the Senate passed this week.
A major factor in VA budgeting is how and where veterans access health care. The VA MISSION Act required clear standards for when veterans could choose between care in a VA facility or non-VA facility, along with a review of those standards to ensure they were meeting the goal of timely access to care for veterans. I shared my frustration with Secretary McDonough that VA has missed its deadline to share the findings of this review. Any consideration of VA spending on medical care must incorporate how veterans will access care in the community, and VA’s delay in sharing this information hurts our ability to deliver VA the resources it needs. Veterans, caregivers, and advocates have all become very familiar with the current access standards. We cannot allow bureaucrats at VA to chip away at the veteran’s legal right to choose where and when they get the care that best meets their needs.
Supporting Emerging Aviation Sector
Earlier this week, the House passed two pieces of legislation involving my efforts to support Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). AAM is an emerging sector of the aviation industry with the potential to create new jobs, transportation options and further develop economic activity.
The first piece of legislation was a companion bill to my Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization Act. This bill lays the groundwork for the emerging AAM industry by establishing a pilot planning grant program to help prepare for the infrastructure needed to support these operations. It is a complementary effort to my Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act, which also passed the House this week. That legislation would instruct the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation to lead a working group comprised of members from nine government agencies to engage and work with the civil aviation industry. The working group would review policies and programs to help advance the maturation of AAM aircraft operations and create recommendations regarding safety, security and federal investments necessary for the development of AAM.
Wichita leads the world in aviation, and both of the AAM bills will make certain Kansas aviation leaders have a role in developing policies designed to shape a new chapter in aviation.
Discussing College Athlete Compensation with NCAA President
This week, I met with the President of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Mark Emmert to continue our conversations related to the modernization of rules related to a student athlete’s name, image and likeness (NIL) rights. Since our last discussion, the NCAA adopted a temporary policy to suspend its rules related to student athlete compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL).
This decision by the NCAA to adopt interim rules to allow college athletes to profit from the use of their (NIL) was a step in the right direction as states continued to enact their own student athlete compensation laws. However, since the temporary rule took effect, many shortcomings have surfaced and further demonstrated that Congress must act to establish a consistent, federal standard on NIL. Creating a level playing field regarding student athlete protection and compensation through federal legislation will empower amateur athletes while maintaining the integrity of college sports that we all know and love.
This is why I introduced the Amateur Athlete Protection and Compensation Act last year ahead of the July 1 rule change. My legislation would create a national standard of guidelines to make certain student athletes can benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness without hurting their eligibility to compete as a student athlete. While at the same time protecting the existing model of college athletics that has afforded so many young athletes an opportunity to pursue an education. Athletics teach young men and women many valuable skills that serve them throughout their life, and Kansas has an unparalleled history of college athletics that includes several premier programs attracting student athletes from all over the nation and the world. I will continue to work to ensure NIL legislation strikes the appropriate balance of empowering amateur athletes while maintaining the integrity of college sports that we all know and love.
Meeting with Kansans in Washington, D.C.
Kansas FFA Students
This week, I enjoyed speaking with Kansas FFA members participating in the Washington Leadership Conference. FFA is a great opportunity for young Kansans to develop their leadership skills and participate in hands-on agricultural education opportunities. Developing aspiring young leaders in agriculture is vital to our future as a nation. I look forward to seeing what these inspiring individuals accomplish in the future.
Kansas Livestock Association
On Wednesday, I was pleased to meet with members of the Kansas Livestock Association. We discussed the detrimental effects high input costs, inflation, and energy prices have on our farmers, ranchers and communities across Kansas. Although there are no simple solutions, I urge the Biden Administration to reverse its anti-energy policies to provide much-needed relief to American families. KLA members also mentioned the extreme heat western Kansas has been experiencing throughout the pass week and the resulting cattle loss. My heart goes out to the cattle producers who have experienced this devastating loss, and I urge everyone to stay safe and take care of themselves amidst these sweltering conditions.
Homebuilders Association of Greater Kansas City and Wichita
I also met with both the Wichita Area Builders Association and the Homebuilders Association of Greater Kansas City on Wednesday. We discussed how trade barriers and excess regulations drive up the cost of housing, pushing more Kansans out of the housing market. At a time when all Americans are dealing with high inflation, lowering the cost of affordable home building is essential for economic prosperity. In order to sustain the generational wealth that can come with owning a home, we need to pursue policies that bring down the price of housing and expand access for Kansans of all income levels. I will continue using my position on the Senate Banking Committee to find solutions for affordable housing.
Citizenship Washington Focus 4-H Group
I also enjoyed meeting with students from the Citizenship Washington Focus 4-H Group from Franklin & Osage Counties. My office was able to give them a tour of the United States Capitol, and I was pleased they were excited to discuss the history of our nation and learn more about how to participate in the democratic process.
It was great to visit with the Davis family from Wichita while they were in the office for their tour of the U.S. Capitol. Welcoming Kansans to the Capitol is one of the highlights of the week.
Wheat Harvest in Kansas
Wheat harvest is underway in Kansas. We are one step closer to feeding a hungry world.
On Saturday, KSU President Richard Linton and I joined Justin Knopf, President of Kansas Wheat, and his family to take part in the wheat harvest at their family farm near Gypsum. While there, Justin shared with President Linton and me how he works to preserve soil health on his farm so that the next generation of the Knopf family will have the means to grow plentiful crops that feed and fuel the world for many years to come. The importance of Kansas farmers and the crops they grow is more vital than ever due to the current food crisis created by Russia’s war in Ukraine. I will continue to do everything within my power to make sure that Kansas families like the Knopfs are able to pass along their operations to the next generation and are able to thrive in rural America. Thank you the Knopf family for letting me join them during harvest, and thank you to Justin’s son Andrew for letting me ride in the grain cart with him.
Groundbreaking of SEK Soybean Crushing Facility
It was great to be in Cherryvale for the Bartlett Soybean Crushing Facility groundbreaking on Friday. This $375 million investment in Montgomery County will bring 50 new jobs to the area and provide a new market opportunity for soybean farmers throughout southeast Kansas. Once operational in 2024, it will process 38.5 million bushels of soybeans annually.
Bartlett has operated in Kansas for more than 100 years, and I’m pleased to see them once again expanding their footprint. It’s investments like this one that keep rural communities like Cherryvale thriving and offer opportunities for generations to come.
I’d like to thank President Bob Knief and Vice President Bill Webster for the invitation to join this celebration. The groundwork to make this facility possible was a major group and state effort, and I appreciate the work of local officials, including the Montgomery County Action Council and Montgomery County Commission.
Following the groundbreaking, I joined Bartlett employees and community leaders for a celebratory luncheon at the Cherryvale Community Center. During the luncheon, Bartlett leaders were able to give the local leaders more insight into this significant project and its progress thus far. When I was invited to address the group, I emphasized how important of a moment this is for Cherryvale and the surrounding area. The event Friday marked an important beginning to an investment that will continue to pay dividends to future generations of Kansans.
Thank you to the Thompson Brothers for a great BBQ lunch.
Progress on Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant Cleanup
On Monday before heading to Washington, D.C., I visited the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant to review the progress of cleaning up the hazardous materials that were left on the site during decades of use by the military. From its activation during World War II to it being declared excess by the U.S. Army in 1998, the Sunflower Plant produced hundreds of millions of pounds of propellants used by the military in munitions deployed during the conflicts of the 20th Century. The manufacturing process created numerous locations within the plant site that require remediation due to the presence of hazardous chemicals. I have previously conducted oversight of the cleanup process, including when I held a Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee hearing about the site in 2017. I will continue to work with local and federal leaders to make certain this site is cleaned up in an efficient and transparent manner and will be ready for public usability.
Thank you to DeSoto Mayor Rick Walker, DeSoto City Administrator Mike Brungardt, Army Corps KC District Commander Col. Travis Rayfield, and Jill Fraley and Kathy Baker, both with the Army Corps, for joining me during my visit.
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