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Iowa veteran is relieved after a bill passes to expand health care benefits to soldiers exposed to toxic burn pits

River to River, hosted by Ben Kieffer

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday night to pass long-sought bipartisan legislation to expand health care benefits for millions of veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits during their military service.

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act is heading to President Joe Biden's desk to be signed into law. It was previously held up in the Senate chamber last week when more than two dozen Republicans who previously supported the measure, including Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, temporarily blocked it from advancing. The bill widely expands healthcare resources and benefits to those exposed to burn pits and could provide coverage for up to 3.5 million veterans.

Past Iowa VFW Commander Michael Braman of Knoxville suffers from a host of medical issues after serving more than 19 years in the armed forces. He talks with River to River host Ben Kieffer about his exposure to toxic burn pits during his deployment to Afghanistan, and his advocacy for the PACT Act.

Later in the episode, Dr. Victoria Sharp of Iowa City VA talks about the impact this federal funding would have on veterans' health care and research. Col. Dan Merry of the Military Officers Association of America talks about the journey of passing this bill, and his organization's efforts to expand full retirement pay and disability compensation to more than 50,000 medically retired veterans through the Major Richard Star Act.


  • Michael Braman, past Iowa VFW Commander, Army and National Guard veteran
  • Dr. Victoria Sharp, acting chief of staff, Iowa City Veterans Affairs Healthcare System
  • Col. Dan Merry, vice president, Government Relations, Military Officers Association of America
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Samantha McIntosh is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio. Prior to IPR, Samantha worked as a reporter for radio stations in southeast and west central Iowa under M&H Broadcasting, and before that she was a weekend music host for GO 96.3 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Caitlin Troutman is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio