Politics

Senate Passes Bill to Expand Benefits for Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday authorized a invoice to create a brand new entitlement program to deal with veterans who might have been uncovered to poisonous substances from burning trash pits on U.S. army bases, sending President Biden laws that will develop medical care eligibility to an estimated 3.5 million folks.

The invoice was authorized on a lopsided bipartisan vote, 86 to 11, solely days after Republicans pulled their assist in a dispute over how to pay for the advantages, imperiling the laws and drawing days of indignant protests from veterans who gathered exterior the Capitol to demand motion.

The measure could be the largest growth of veterans’ advantages because the Agent Orange Act of 1991, which elevated entry to care for Vietnam War veterans who had been uncovered to the poisonous herbicide that endangered generations of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians.

The new laws would successfully presume that any American service member stationed in a fight zone for the final 32 years may have been uncovered to poisonous substances, allocating a projected $280 billion over the subsequent decade to deal with illnesses tied to these exposures and streamlining veterans’ entry to such care.

The House authorized the invoice final month, and Mr. Biden, who has championed the measure, was anticipated to rapidly signal it. He has speculated that poisonous substances from burn pits contributed to the brain most cancers that killed his son Beau Biden, who served in Iraq, in 2015.

The laws had drawn broad assist on Capitol Hill, however simply because it was anticipated to clear the Senate final week, Republicans within the chamber abruptly withdrew their backing, insisting that Democrats enable them an opportunity to restrict the funding accessible to deal with veterans.

The invoice would offer assured funding for treating veterans uncovered to toxins by establishing a devoted fund that will not be topic to the annual congressional spending course of. Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, warned that the measure was written in a manner that might enable for immense new spending unrelated to veterans’ care.

Mr. Toomey tried and failed to cap the quantity of money that could possibly be put into the fund each year, a transfer that Denis McDonough, the secretary of veterans affairs, had warned may lead to “rationing of care for vets.”

Mr. Toomey additionally proposed shifting the fund for treating veterans into so-called discretionary spending after a decade, which means that the Department of Veterans Affairs would have to request funding every year. That would topic the funding to Congress’s approval and the annual partisan spending battles on Capitol Hill, reasonably than having it assured.

Democrats opposed each efforts, saying the laws didn’t want to be modified.

“This is a bill that will work for this country, that will work for the taxpayers of this country and it will work, most importantly, for the veterans and their families,” stated Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana and the chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Susan Zeier, the mother-in-law of Heath Robinson, a member of the Ohio Army National Guard for whom the invoice is called, had been protesting exterior the Capitol for days to urge the Senate to move the measure earlier than leaving for its summer time recess.

Mr. Robinson served in Iraq and died in 2020 after battling lung most cancers believed to have been tied to burn pit publicity, and the invoice is known as the Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022.

“For me and my daughter, this is the satisfaction that we fulfilled our promise to Heath,” Ms. Zeier stated. “We hope families don’t suffer like we did.”

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