After weeks of waiting, veterans exposed to toxic burn pits will not get health care benefits thanks to the PACT Act passing through the Senate. The decisive and bipartisan win is a huge one for veterans and military family members who require VA health care for conditions that have developed after exposure to toxic gas from these pits.
Though the Tuesday night vote was great for those receiving disability benefits, Republican amendments had slowed things down. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and several high-ranking Democrats pushed the Senate vote through, even though they were met by several Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who held things up until the Senate began voting again on Tuesday.
The PACT Act passed while veterans and their families camped outside the Capitol Building, and toxic exposed veterans shared their stories about toxic exposure to the burn pits and Agent Orange. Several harshly criticized Republicans and even Comedian Jon Stewart shared his support for the passage.
Though the Act had passed back in June, there were legal barriers, including a perceived budget loophole, and technical issues, which caused the bill to have to move through again.
In the new version, three Republican amendments blocked swift passage of the Act, and Republicans attempted to slow down things even more due to things like an unrelated spending binge from Democrats. However, these Democratic spending maneuvers didn’t stop a successful vote, and the Senate approved the final passage on Tuesday night.
The bill left the chamber Tuesday night and makes its way to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed. President Biden was quoted as saying that this bill “makes good on our sacred obligation” to care for combat veterans and the families of those in military service.
Veterans and their families could be seen from the Senate floor in the galleries as the floor called Tuesday’s development, and America’s veterans no longer have to worry about proving any of their medical conditions are caused by the inhalation of toxic air coming from these pits.
After the legislation passed, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told the group,
“You can go home knowing the good and great thing you have done and accomplished for the United States of America.”
The VA can no longer force veterans to prove that any illness or cancer results from serving near burn pits or areas where Agent Orange was prevalent. Thanks to this bill, the VA now must presume that certain types of cancer and respiratory illnesses are related to burn pit exposure.
According to the Defense Department, approximately 70% of all disability claims to the VA related to burn pit exposure are denied. However, this bill opens up more options and extends disability payments to hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans and survivors.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, around 600,000 vets who served in the Vietnam War will benefit from this bill in the form of increased compensation once it passes over President Biden’s desk. Additionally, those who were exposed to Agent Orange, approximately 50,000 veterans, will be compensated for their illnesses. Once the bill is signed into law, it is believed to add around $277 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade.
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