March 30, 2023

Congressman Castro Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Expand Healthcare and Benefits to U.S. Veterans Stationed in the Panama Canal Zone

WASHINGTON – Today, Representatives Joaquin Castro (D-TX), María Elvira Salazar (R-FL), Dina Titus (D-NV), Mary Miller (R-IL), André Carson (D-IN), Darren Soto (D-FL), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced the Panama Canal Zone Veterans Act to establish a presumption of service connection for more than a dozen illnesses and conditions associated with exposure to herbicide in the Panama Canal Zone between 1958-1999. The legislation would expand access to healthcare and benefits for U.S. veterans who served in the Panama Canal Zone during the covered period.

“San Antonio is proud to be Military City, USA because we know how important veterans and their families are to our community and the nation,” said Rep. Castro. “Yet, for too long, America's veterans have returned home only to fight an uphill battle for the healthcare and benefits they earned. This bill delivers much needed relief and support to those suffering from illnesses that stem from active duty service in the Panama Canal Zone.” 

“For decades, veterans who served in the Panama Canal Zone have been fighting to get a presumption of service connection for the conditions we developed from toxic herbicide exposure,” said Steven Price, a San Antonio veteran and founder of V.O.I.C.E.S of Our Veterans who developed leukemia after service in the Panama Canal Zone. “I’m grateful for the years of work that Congressman Castro and Doggett have devoted to helping veterans get recognition and care for the diseases caused by our service. The passage of this bipartisan legislation will be life-changing for me and countless veterans.”

“Miami is home to numerous veterans who served our country by patrolling the Panama Canal while our military was stationed there,” said Rep. Salazar. “We need to provide our veterans with the healthcare they deserve, and which they need. They risked their lives every day for our country, its only right to be there for them in their time of need.”

“Last year the Honoring Our PACT Act, which I was proud to vote for, finally secured critical health care services for veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits. Similar benefits have been provided to ‘atomic veterans’ with presumption of illnesses caused by exposure to radiation in the South Pacific and at the Nevada Test Site. I’m helping lead this legislation to extend similar protections to even more veterans. It’s the least we can do,” said Rep. Titus.

For years, Representative Castro has supported actions to help veterans access the healthcare and benefits they deserve. Beginning in 2017, he hosted a series of field hearings and congressional briefings to raise awareness about exposure to burn pits and other toxic substances and urge the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand services for affected veterans. In addition to voting to pass the Honoring Our PACT Act – the largest expansion of veterans benefits in decades – he led an amicus brief supporting Texas veteran Captain Le Roy Torres in Torres v. Texas, a Supreme Court case brought by Captain Torres against the state of Texas for failure to accommodate his service-connected disability.

The Panama Canal Zone Veterans Act would establish a presumption of service connection for veterans affected by the following conditions who served in the Panama Canal Zone from 1958-1999:

  • Chronic B-cell leukemia
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Prostate cancer
  • Respiratory cancers (including lung cancer)
  • Soft-tissue sarcoma
  • Al amyloidosis
  • Chloracne and any other type of similar acneiform disease
  • Diabetes mellitus type 2
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Early onset peripheral neuropathy
  • Porphyria cutanea tarda
  • Bladder cancer
  • Hypothyroidism

Read the bill text HERE.