WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and Congressmen Steny H. Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, and Anthony G. Brown (all D-Md.) announced the House passage of legislation to open two veterans clinics in Baltimore and Prince George’s County. The bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT Act) which passed yesterday by a vote of 342-88, provides healthcare benefits for all generations of toxic-exposed veterans for the first time in the nation’s history and will improve access to care for all those who served in our nation’s armed forces. The bill now returns to the Senate for final approval, after which it will go to President Biden to be signed into law.
The lawmakers fought to include authorization and funding for the two Maryland veterans’ health clinics – one in the Baltimore region and another in Prince George’s County. $43 million will support the construction of a new Baltimore Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), which will replace and expand the outpatient services currently provided at the existing Baltimore VA Clinic Annex on Fayette Street while reducing the strain on the Baltimore VA Medical Center. $32 million is set aside for the construction of a Prince George’s CBOC; this new facility will be significantly larger than the existing clinic in the southern part of the county and represent a major upgrade for area veterans, as the new clinic will be equipped to provide services beyond the capabilities of the current clinic as well as the Southeast D.C. CBOC.
“We’ve got to keep our promises to veterans who put themselves as risk to serve our country, and that includes ensuring they have access to high-quality health care. The bipartisan PACT Act will do just that – investing $75 million in new and upgraded outpatient clinics that will help deliver much-needed services to Maryland veterans,” said Senator Van Hollen. “This is a big win for our communities and a critical step forward in improving the network of care for veterans across our state while also making a historic investment in care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxins. That’s why we’ll continue working to get it to the President’s desk so it can be signed into law as soon as possible.”
“Maryland veterans served this nation with honor and they deserve access to top-notch health care services in a timely and convenient manner,” said Senator Cardin. “Providing health care benefits to the thousands of American veterans exposed to toxins emanating from burn pits is essential. Expanding the network of Community Based Outpatient Clinics available to Baltimore area veterans and greatly upgrading the facilities and services for veterans within Prince George’s County will bring such needed, state-of-the-art health care services within easier reach for all veterans who call Maryland home.”
“The values of our state are reflected in how we treat and care for our veterans,” said Congressman Steny Hoyer. “This is a strong piece of legislation that will make a difference in the lives of Prince George’s County veterans and their families, and I was so glad to ensure it passed the House. I look forward to continue working with the Congressional Delegation in the House to expand and improve the services and resources available to our veteran communities.”
“Improving the network of Community Based Outpatient Clinics will help deliver the quality health care that Maryland’s veterans deserve,” said Congressman John Sarbanes. “I am pleased the House has passed this bipartisan legislation to fund two new Maryland CBOC facilities and expand care for veterans nationwide, especially those exposed to toxic chemicals.”
“We owe a great debt of gratitude to our veterans as a nation, so it is a privilege to fight for them in Congress,” said Congressman Kweisi Mfume. “Helping to meet the health care needs of veterans is just one aspect of the work we do each day to honor them for their service.”
“We make a sacred promise to our servicemembers when they return home – to provide our veterans with the best health care our country has to offer. Critical to upholding that promise, is a commitment to access in the communities our veterans live in,” said Congressman Anthony Brown. “This legislation and funding will help meet Maryland veterans where they are and provide the quality care that they deserve. We’ll never stop fighting for the brave men and women who have served and we’ll always have their backs.”
Additional Background on the Baltimore and Prince George’s County CBOC Plans
For the Baltimore CBOC, this legislation provides for a lease of an approximately 112,624 square foot outpatient clinic, including 800 parking spaces. The new facility would enable VA to enhance outpatient services and provide more primary care space than is currently available at the Baltimore VA Clinic Annex.
For the Prince George’s County clinic, the PACT Act provides for a lease of an approximately 85,116 square foot outpatient clinic, including 600 parking spaces. The new facility would enable VA to accommodate the workload that the Southern Prince George’s County and Southeast D.C. CBOCs currently service, which has increased since the closure of the Greenbelt CBOC in 2015, and allow more patients to receive care closer to their homes.
Both clinics will allow for the full implementation of the Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) model of care delivery, improving operational efficiencies and the veteran experience. They will be state-of-the-art, energy-efficient health care facilities offering primary care, mental health, specialty care, and ancillary services to veterans.
About the PACT Act
Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson deployed to Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio National Guard. He died in 2020 from toxic exposure as a result of his military service. Among its many priorities, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 will:
· Expand VA health care eligibility to Post-9/11 combat veterans, which includes more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans;
· Create a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure;
· Add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s list of service presumptions, including hypertension;
· Expand presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure;
o Includes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll as locations for Agent Orange exposure;
· Strengthen federal research on toxic exposure;
· Improve VA’s resources and training for toxic-exposed veterans; and
· Set VA and veterans up for success by investing in:
o VA claims processing;
o VA’s workforce; and
o VA health care facilities.
· Establish 31 new VA health care facilities across 19 states, including the two in Maryland.