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Transcript of Speaker Pelosi’s Remarks at Bill Enrollment Ceremony for the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring our PACT Act

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats held a bill enrollment ceremony for S. 3373, the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring our PACT Act.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:  

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you all.  This has been such a group effort, an effort of inside maneuvering, outside mobilization, families telling their stories.  Mr. Ruiz, having three degrees – graduate degrees in terms of public health and being a doctor and the rest – maybe one is not his undergrad, I’m not sure.  And to have him be an intellectual resource on this.  Mr. Takano really – this is his legislation.  He is not in town today.  He’ll be back tomorrow.  But I want to mention his name because, again, he has, as Chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has done so much to take this bill to where it is.  

It was a heavy lift, I have to say, because it was such a major problem.  And the solution would have to be major and costly — and not to over promise.  So you’ve really struck the right balance, Mr. Ruiz.  We’re fortunate, indeed, that we had the benefit of your experience and your knowledge on all of this.  And if you listen to the stories of the families, it breaks your heart.  We’ve had them here again and again.  

May I just say – a departure from this – I’m so glad that Congresswoman Underwood is here, because she’s going to have a tremendous victory on Friday.  When we – when we pass the IRA, the Inflation Reduction Act, it’ll have a major piece in there that’s so important – kitchen table issue for America’s families.  And that is the extension for three years of the subsidies to lower costs.  And that was for legislation in the Rescue package.  And now it has to be extended.  So she was relentless in pursuing that.  And we’re so glad it made the cut in that deal.  At the same time having historic legislation to enable the Secretary to – to negotiate for lower drug prices.  That’s a very, very significant thing as we save the environment, produce jobs.  

And to go back to our purpose here.  This is – when we sign this, we will be sending it over on its way to the White House for the President to sign.  So we’ll make a tremendous difference in the lives of our men and women in uniform and their families.  It’s named now – you may have recalled that the President was there when the – his mom came to the swearing in.  Nicholas – no, yeah – Private First Class Heath Robinson, a veteran stolen away by cancerous toxins.  Again, this bill will recognize toxic exposure as the cost of war.  When you go to war, this is really part of the combat that – it could affect up to 3.5 million American heroes.  And this one is heartbreaking, because it not only applies to the person in uniform but applies to families – it addresses the harmful effects of the water at Camp Lejeune.  And that’s not just for the person in uniform, but their families.  And the consequences are terrible.  

It’s a bipartisan bill.  And we’re very pleased with that.  And we’re striving all along to continue to make it so.  And I’m going to just say, I mentioned Mark Takano.  For years, we have a regular meeting with the Veterans Service Organizations.  And for years, they’ve been talking about this.  Mr. Ruiz and Mr. Takano captured this.  There was some support for it in the Senate, too, so now it would be bicameral and bipartisan.  But there are groups called the – Burn Pits 360 and their outside mobilization.  Well, you’ve probably seen, you probably seen Jon Stewart and John Feal in their, shall we say, very direct language when the Senate didn’t pass it.  I just want to mention one of my constituents.  I sent him a video today.

His name is [Lieutenant] Colonel Michael Seltzer.  He’s a loving father, devoted husband, a daring fighter pilot.  He fought valiantly in the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan, and his commanding officer said he was the best pilot he had ever seen.  During his service, Colonel Seltzer was exposed to toxins coming from burn pits.  This week, he’s fighting for his life being treated for stage four cancer.  Again, we’re grateful for his courage, prayerful for hopefully some remedy that will come along.  But just one of so many who are affected by the burn pits.  Big as three football fields, all kinds of junk thrown in there.  How could they do this to our men and women in uniform?  How can we put them in harm’s way in such a way?

So now, I’m going to sign this.  And again, I sign lots of bills all the time.  But this one really hits home for so many American families, with their courage, their patriotism.  They sacrifice so much for our country.  And as we say in the military – on the battlefield, we leave no soldier behind.  And when they come home, we leave no veteran behind.

But this is something so mysterious.  I’m glad that we also have Elizabeth Dole’s initiatives in here for the Hidden Heroes, the caregivers, who do so much for our heroes when they – when they come home.

So it’s a pretty exciting day.  We’ll go tomorrow to the White House, where the President will sign the bill.  And it will be cause for celebration, as sad as we are that is needed.  But as grateful as we are for the services that our men and women who have rendered, the sacrifice of their families and, again, grateful to the President for his leadership to make sure that this happens.

Mr. Ruiz, would you like to say something about this, as we hold this up?

*** 

Speaker Pelosi.  Congresswoman Lauren Underwood of Illinois, health care professional herself.

***

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you for your service – both of you, on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  And thank you for joining us here today.

The – this means a lot to me, because going back when, when – before I was in Congress, I was involved in some activism on Agent Orange.  It took so long – it took so long for justice to be done, in that regard.  We even have a little piece of it in this bill, still, as we learned more things.  But I remember sitting in with veterans who were – because of Agent Orange – who were on hunger strikes, and – as if that was going to make a difference, you know, they should have not had to do that.  But, again, determined that we would get something done to help them.  And that happened a few years ago.  And now we have this to go even further.  

So again, it’s – it is emotional for all of us.  And again, I thank Mark Takano for his leadership, Senator Tester in the Senate and, of course, the President of United States.

It’s unfortunate that the Senate had to pull a stunt and not pass the bill on schedule, defeating the bill.  Thanks to the families who had all-night vigils to make sure the public was aware of what was happening again.  Outside mobilization is what it takes to get the job done.  So for our veterans, we thank them.  We love them.  We pray for them.  And we want to do the best for them.  Onward to the President.

[Applause]

Thank you. Thank you.  

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