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Senate passes historic invoice to assist veterans uncovered to burn pits throughout navy service

A large bipartisan majority authorised the long-awaited invoice by a vote of 84-14. It will now go to the House of Representatives, the place House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to maneuver rapidly and ship it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature. The invoice is an amended model of the Honoring Our PACT Act that handed the House earlier this 12 months.

“Today is a historic, long awaited day for our nation’s veterans,” mentioned Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a flooring speech on Thursday forward of the vote. “In a few moments, the Senate is finally going to pass the PACT Act, the most significant expansion of health care benefits to our veterans in generations.”

Schumer continued, “The callousness of forcing veterans who got sick as they were fighting for us because of 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. Praise God.”

Burn pits have been generally used to burn waste, together with on a regular basis trash, munitions, hazardous materials and chemical compounds at navy websites all through Iraq and Afghanistan till about 2010.

These large open-air burn pits, which have been typically operated at or close to navy bases, launched harmful toxins into the air that, upon publicity, could have prompted short- and long-term well being situations, based on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

A 2020 member survey by the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America discovered that 86% of respondents have been uncovered to burn pits or different toxins. The VA has denied roughly 70% of veterans’ burn pit claims since 9/11, based on earlier statements by Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican and rating GOP member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The laws is years within the making, and, as soon as signed into legislation, would quantity to a serious bipartisan victory.

“The Senate has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity today to make history,” Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, mentioned Wednesday on the Senate flooring forward of a key procedural vote to advance the invoice towards last passage. “This bill isn’t 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 righting a wrong that has been ignored for too damn long.”

Passage of the invoice — referred to as the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 — may also mark an enormous achievement for Biden, who has championed the laws and has been personally affected by the problem.

Biden believes burn pits could have prompted the mind most cancers that killed his son Beau, an Iraq War veteran, in 2015. During his State of the Union tackle earlier this 12 months, Biden referred to as on Congress to cross this laws.

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

Among the invoice’s priorities, it might extensively increase well being care sources and advantages to former navy service members uncovered to burn pits and will present protection for as much as 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans. It provides 23 situations associated to burn pit and poisonous publicity, together with hypertension, to the VA’s checklist of diseases which were incurred or exacerbated throughout navy service, eradicating the burden for veterans to show that their poisonous publicity resulted in these situations.

The invoice additionally requires investments in VA well being care amenities, claims processing and the VA workforce whereas additionally strengthening federal analysis on poisonous publicity, which has been a precedence for Biden as properly.

“We still have our work cut out as a Congress, as a Senate to make sure that the promises that are made in this bill are promises that are kept,” Moran mentioned Wednesday in a flooring speech. “This bill was designed to fix a broken system that has been cobbled together over decades of patchwork fixes.”

Veterans’ teams have lengthy pressed lawmakers to approve complete burn pit laws, as former servicemembers struggled to take care of the medical and ensuing monetary fallout from poisonous burn pit publicity.

Comedian and political commentator Jon Stewart, an advocate for 9/11 first responders and victims, has additionally been a high-profile determine within the effort to boost consideration to the problem and push for a legislative answer.

“The bottom line is our country exposed our own veterans to poison for years, and we knew about it, and we did not act with urgency and appropriateness,” Stewart mentioned earlier this 12 months at a digital roundtable with the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “And therefore, we’ve lost men and women who served this country. They’ve died out of our inaction.”

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

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