Senate Passes “Burn Pit” Legislation to Improve Health Care for Veterans!

On Tuesday night, the Senate passed the PACT Act by a large majority. This is a bill that will give more health care benefits to veterans who got sick because of burn pits while they were in the military. The Senate gallery cheered after the vote, which was 86 to 11.

The bill is now on its way to President Biden’s desk, where he is expected to sign it, according to the White House. The vote happened after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said they had reached a deal Tuesday afternoon.

“This is a wonderful moment, especially for all the people who have made this happen who are observing it,” Schumer said after the vote. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

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“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a situation where people who have already given so much had to fight so hard to get so little,” he said after the vote. “I hope we learn a lesson.”

 Senate Passes "Burn Pit"

The Department of Veterans Affairs heard from Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Tuesday night: “I want to tell the VA that they need to get it right. You better deliver. Already, these veterans have waited too long.”

Mr. Biden said after the vote that he looks forward to signing the bill “so that veterans and their families and caregivers impacted by toxic exposures finally get the benefits and comprehensive health care they earned and deserve.”

About 3.5 million veterans who served in the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and were exposed to toxic burn pits will get more help from the new law. The bill will make it easier for veterans to get care for conditions linked to exposure to burn pits because it will be assumed that a number of conditions, including several cancers, are linked to the exposure.

Burn pits are holes in the ground that the U.S. military dug near bases in countries with few services. This is where troops would throw away trash and burn it.

The House and Senate passed the bill in June, but it had to go back to the House and Senate because of a problem with the language before it could be sent to President Biden’s desk. The bill passed again in the House, but last week it didn’t get past a procedural vote in the Senate. Twenty-five Republican senators who had voted for the bill in June did not vote to move it forward last week. They said they didn’t like how the bill is paid for.

Since June, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has been against a part of the bill that would turn $400 billion in spending on veterans that was previously optional into spending that has to be done. Most of the time, a measure that is paid for with mandatory spending doesn’t need to be approved every year, unlike spending that is up to the government’s discretion. Toomey says that this change frees up money that could be used for things that have nothing to do with veterans.

Mr. Biden has blamed burn pits for the health problems of his late son, Beau Biden, who died of a brain tumor in 2015. In a 2019 speech to the Service Employees International Union, then-candidate Biden said because of his son’s “exposure to burn pits, in my view, I can’t prove it yet, he came back with stage four glioblastoma.”

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