Senate passes landmark bill to help veterans exposed to burns during military service

Senate passes landmark bill to help veterans exposed to burns during military service
A large bipartisan majority approved the long-awaited bill with a vote of 84-14. It will now go to the House of Representatives, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to act quickly and send it to President Joe Biden’s desk for her signature. The bill is a modified version of the Honoring Our PACT Act. what happened to the house at the beginning of this year.

“Today is a long-awaited and historic day for our nation’s veterans,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech Thursday before the vote. “In a few moments, the Senate will finally pass the PACT Act, the most significant expansion of health care benefits for our veterans in generations.”

Schumer continued, “The callousness of forcing veterans who got sick while fighting for us due to exposure to these toxins to have to fight for years in the VA to get the benefits they deserved — Well, that will soon be over.” be the Lord.”

Burn pits were commonly used to burn waste including everyday garbage, ammunition, hazardous materials, and chemical compounds at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan until about 2010.

These massive open-air burn pits, often operated on or near military bases, released dangerous toxins into the air that, upon exposure, may have caused short- and long-term health problems, according to the Department of Homeland Affairs. Veterans.

A 2020 Member Survey by the defense organization America’s Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan found that 86% of those surveyed were exposed to burn pits or other toxins. The VA has denied approximately 70% of veterans’ claims since 9/11, according to earlier statements by Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas and a ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

The legislation has been years in the making and, once enacted, would amount to a major bipartisan victory.

“The Senate today has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make history,” Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana and chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said Wednesday on the Senate floor ahead of a key procedural vote to advance the bill towards final approval. “This bill is not about Democrats versus Republicans. It’s not about political posturing. It’s about Americans standing up for those who have served and sacrificed on behalf of this country…In fact, it’s even more than that. It’s about correcting a mistake that has been ignored for far too long.”

The passage of the bill, called Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT) of 2022, will also mark a major achievement for Biden, who has championed the legislation and been personally affected by it. the problem. .

Biden believes the fires may have caused the brain cancer that killed his son Beau, an Iraq War veteran, in 2015. During his State of the Union address earlier this year, Biden called on Congress to pass this legislation.

“This is not just about our service men and women, the people who served in our military, this is about their families,” Tester added. “Because when people go to war, it’s not just the military that goes to war, it’s everyone in their family. And what this bill will do is address decades of inaction and failure by our government, expanding eligibility for VA medical care to more than 3.5 million combat veterans exposed to burn pits.

Among the bill’s priorities, it would vastly expand health care resources and benefits to former service members exposed to combustion pits and could provide coverage for up to 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic substances. Adds 23 conditions related to burning and toxic exposure, including hypertension, to the VA list of diseases that have occurred or been exacerbated during military service, removing the burden on veterans to prove their toxic exposure resulted in these conditions .

The bill also calls for investments in VA health care facilities, claims processing and the VA workforce, while strengthening federal investigation into toxic exposure, which has also been a priority for Biden.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us as a Congress, as a Senate to make sure that the promises that are made in this bill are promises that are kept,” Moran said Wednesday in a floor speech. “This bill was designed to repair a broken system that has been cobbled together over decades of patchwork fixes.”

Veterans groups have long lobbied lawmakers to pass comprehensive burn pit legislation as former service members struggled to deal with the medical and financial fallout resulting from exposure to toxic burn pits.

Comedian and political commentator Jon Stewart, an advocate for 9/11 first responders and victims, has also been a high-profile figure in the effort to bring attention to the problem and push for a legislative solution.

“The bottom line is that our country exposed our own veterans to poison for years, and we knew it, and we didn’t act urgently or appropriately,” Stewart said earlier this year at a virtual roundtable with the Veterans Affairs Committee. Chamber Veterans. “And therefore, we have lost men and women who served this country. They have died because of our inaction.”

CNN’s Clare Foran, Ted Barrett, Kristin Wilson and Maegan Vázquez contributed to this report.

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