Who was Sergeant Heath Robinson and Why Was Critical Veterans Legislation Named for Him?

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 bears the name of Sergeant Heath Robinson, who died in 2020 after a battle against lung cancer. He breathed in air from a toxic burn pit during two deployments to Iraq. The bill both commemorates his life and honors the struggle that his family endured to get the federal government to do the right thing by its sickened veterans who answered the call for their country.

Congress often chooses to name bills that it views as righting and Injustice after somebody who was victimized by the wrong.  For example, when Congress passed an Equal Pay Act, it chose to name the bill after Lilly Ledbetter, the plaintiff in a Supreme Court case who alleged that she was unfairly and wrongfully underpaid because of her gender. In another piece of legislation that provided health care benefits for people who were injured by toxic Camp Lejeune water, Congress named the bill in memory of a 9-year-old girl who died from cancer after consuming the dangerous chemicals in the base’s water supply. The Janey Ensminger Act Was passed after her father waged a long battle to call attention to the countless veterans and family members who were sickened by Camp Lejeune water. His efforts were partially responsible for the later push for justice that was finally granted with the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. The father did not even know that his daughter’s death was caused by the contaminated water until over a decade after she passed away.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act was a Part of the PACT Act

Like it also dies with many pieces of legislation, Congress attacked the Camp Lejeune Justice act to the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022. This legislation was a larger overall effort to provide Healthcare and a measure of Justice to veterans who were sickened in the service of the United States, both domestically and overseas. Although the PACT Act was delayed due to partisan wrangling, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was an uncontroversial part of the bill that gave a long overdue right to seek compensation from the federal government for its negligence in exposing service members and their families to toxins.

Sergeant Robinson Was Exposed to Toxins on Two Deployments

When Congress passed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, It honored a deceased veteran who passed away from cancer after being exposed to toxic substances from Burn pits during his deployments to Iraq. Accordingly, the PACT Act was named for sergeant Heath Robinson.

Sergeant Robinson served several deployments to Iraq as part of the Ohio National Guard . Like many veterans, he was stationed at a base where Personnel burned trash in open pits. The military operated dozens of these burn pits across Iraq, exposing countless veterans to significant Danger. The burn pits incinerated hazardous substances that became part of the air that these veterans breathed on a daily basis.

Sergeant Robinson’s Health began to decline 10 years after he returned home from his last deployment to Iraq. He was eventually diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called mucous membrane pemphigoid, a group of rare chronic autoimmune disorders. Later, he was also diagnosed with lung cancer, which he attributed to inhaling smoke from the toxic burn pits. He battled lung cancer for three years before dying in 2020. He left behind a wife and a six-year-old daughter.

Sergeant Robinson was known for his dedication to health and fitness. He was twice awarded the state’s Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year award to honor those who display physical and mental toughness. By the time he passed away, photos reveal someone made frail by years of battling severe illness. At that point, he was begging his family to administer a fatal dosage of medication because he was weary of being a burden on them.

Sergeant Robinson’s Family Spoke Up for Justice

So long as sergeant Robinson was an active-duty service member, he could not speak out about the burn pits, even though he knew that they placed him in danger. However, his family felt no such restraint. After Sergeant Robinson was sickened, they began a crusade to alert the public to the danger that these veterans were placed in and campaign for justice. For years, the government denied any connection between the hazards of the burn pits and mysterious health conditions that affected returning veterans. It was up to family members and injured veterans to make these conditions known to the general public.

Even after some began to acknowledge the connection between burn pits and serious health conditions, Many in a position of power simply did not want to hear from the veterans. For example, in a 2019 Hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the chairman of the committee barred veterans from testifying.

Sergeant Robinson’s family was one of the many families that fought a long fight to get the federal government to right wrongs. In particular, the major Injustice was that deployed service members were sickened in large numbers by exposure to toxic substances emanating from Burn pits in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Sergeant Robinson’s wife attended the 2022 State of the Union Address as a guest of First Lady Jill Biden. She fought for people who were sickened by burn pits when their claims for veterans benefits were denied by the VA. The agency did not believe that many of these illnesses were service-related. Sergeant Robinson’s dying wish was for justice and care for families of servicemembers injured when they were exposed to burn pits.

Sergeant Robinson’s family joined the fight for passage of the PACT Act, especially when it was temporarily blocked in Congress. His mother-in-law was a staunch advocate of the legislation. She personally lobbied Congress for nearly five years to pass this critical legislation.

When Congress initially voted down the PACT Act, she helped lead rallies denouncing the vote against the bill. She had begun to wear Sergeant Robinson’s army jacket when she heard that a similar effort among family members of sickened 9/11 first responders led to the passage of landmark legislation to care for them. Now that the law has been passed, she has indicated that she will retire his army jacket finally.

Now that Congress has passed the PACT Act, injured veterans now have access to medical care for their toxin exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a long road to pass this legislation that keeps a basic promise that the military makes to its service members. Now that the law has been signed, service members we’ll know that they can both get justice for exposure to harmful  toxins (in the water at Camp Lejeune)  and the health care that they need.