“Today is a long-awaited 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 cruelty of forcing veterans who got sick while fighting for us due to exposure to these toxins to fight for years in Virginia to get the benefits they deserve—well, that’ll be over soon. Thank God.”
Incineration pits were commonly used to incinerate waste, including everyday waste, munitions, hazardous materials, and chemical compounds at military sites throughout Iraq and Afghanistan until approximately 2010.
These massive open-air pits, which often operated on or near military bases, released dangerous toxins into the air that, when exposed, may have caused short- and long-term health conditions, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The legislation has been in the works for years, and once signed into law, it would be a major bipartisan victory.
“The Senate has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity today to make history,” Senator John Tester, a Montana Democrat and chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said Wednesday on the Senate floor before the main procedural vote on. Pay the bill toward the final lane. “This bill is not about Democrats versus Republicans. It’s not about political stances. It’s about Americans standing up for those who have served and sacrificed on behalf of this country. … In fact, it’s more than that. It’s about correcting a mistake that has been ignored for far too long.” “.
Passing the bill—named Staff Sgt. Heath Robinson fulfilling our promise to address the Comprehensive Poisons Act (PACT) of 2022—would also mark a major achievement for Biden, who has championed the legislation and is personally affected by the issue.
Biden believes the burns 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 isn’t just about the men and women of our service, the people who served in our military, it’s about their families,” Tester added. “Because when people go to war, it’s not just the service person who does it, but everyone in their families. And what this bill would do is it would address decades of inaction and failure by our government, expanding eligibility for health care to help veterans even more. 3.5 million veterans have experienced burns.”
Among the bill’s priorities is to broadly expand health care resources and benefits for ex-military service members exposed to burn burns and could provide coverage for up to 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxins. It adds 23 conditions related to burns and exposure to toxins, including high blood pressure, to the list of illnesses incurred or exacerbated during military service in the VA, removing the burden on veterans to prove that their exposure to toxic substances led to these conditions.
The bill also calls for investments in victim-assisted health care facilities, claims processing and the Veterans Affairs workforce while promoting federal research on toxic exposure, which has also been a priority for Biden.
“We are still doing our job as Congress, as the Senate to make sure that the promises in this act are promises that are kept,” Moran said Wednesday in a speech on Wednesday. “This bill is designed to fix a broken system that has been held together over decades of patchwork.”
Veterans’ groups have long lobbied lawmakers to agree to blanket scalding legislation, as ex-military personnel have struggled to deal with the medical and financial fallout from exposure to toxic burns.
Comedian and political commentator Jon Stewart, an advocate for 9/11 first responders and victims, has been a leading figure in efforts to increase attention to the issue and push for a legislative solution.
“The bottom line is that our country has exposed our veterans to poisoning for years, and we knew it, and we didn’t act urgently and appropriately,” Stewart said earlier this year at a virtual roundtable with the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “Consequently, we have lost the men and women who served this country. They died because of our inaction.”
CNN’s Claire Foran, Ted Barrett, Kristen Wilson, and Megan Vasquez contributed to this report.
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