WASHINGTON, DC – August 2, 2022 – On August 1st, the Senate passed a bill (called the PACT Act) improving health care and disability benefits for millions of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. The Senate passed the act by a vote of 86 to 11 after having rejected it the previous week. The House approved it last month. The next step is for confirmation by President Biden. In a statement August 1st, the President said “While we can never fully repay the enormous debt we owe to those who have worn the uniform, today the United States Congress took important action to meet this sacred obligation” and to care for veterans and their families. Medical care will be offered to over 3 million veterans.
This was the third Senate vote since June. The first vote had immense approval. A second vote was necessary because the Senate introduced a tax provision before the first vote which, according to the Constitution, should originate in the House. The House resolved this issue and sent it back to the Senate for ratification. However, this became a partisan issue when Republicans decided to block the bill because they decided to change another aspect of the bill calling for an annual budget review and reassessment rather than having the funding guaranteed by a mandatory spending designation.
This defeat set off an outpouring of anger from veterans’ groups and advocates, including comedian and activist Jon Stewart. In response, many veterans and their families protested by camping out at the Capitol in spite of hot, humid and rainy conditions. They also voiced their support for the bill by being in the Senate during the vote. Many Republicans were caught in the middle between supporting veterans who had placed defending their country ahead of their own health and holding up a top legislative priority of the service organizations.
Millions of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits will have easier access to medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs and have expedited disability payments. The PACT Act (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins) directs the VA that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were related to burn pit exposure and, therefore, are service-connected. One of the cancers codified in the bill is glioblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer. The President’s oldest son was an Iraq War veteran who had died at a young age when he became afflicted with this rare cancer after his tour of duty. Biden said in March, “When the evidence doesn’t give a clear answer…the decision we favor is caring for our veterans while we continue to learn more – not waiting.”
Any service member stationed in a combat zone since 1990 could have been exposed to toxic burn pits so they will no longer have to prove that these illnesses were service-connected. According to the Department of Defense, about 70% of prior disability claims related to exposure to burn pits have been denied by the VA for insufficient evidence and scientific data. One day before the recent vote, Stewart spoke in front of the Capitol, “We owe a debt of gratitude to (veterans). And it’s about time we start paying it off.”
Listen to the full report below:
Contact: Dick Needleman, Health reporter, 103.3 AshevilleFM, firstname.lastname@example.org