Congress FINALLY Passed It — 86-11!
(UnitedVoice.com) – During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, military bases and encampments were not at the same standard as established ones. In combat environments, there’s little time or availability to construct sewage systems or haul away trash. So, they burned it all using accelerants in what became known as burn pits. While solving one problem, it created another. Toxins released from the smoke created health issues for untold numbers of veterans.
On Tuesday, August 2, the Senate passed legislation increasing the medical care to millions of vets exposed to toxins over the last 70 years. It was one of the largest expansions of veteran benefits in US history. Some Conservatives reviewed the text and expressed concern over how lawmakers crafted it. After political debate and anger from veteran groups, Republicans rallied to pass the PACT Act 86-11.
Congress Corrects a Wrong
When service members head to war, they know the dangers. Still, they expect the government will have their backs. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. The Guardian reported the Department of Defense believes approximately 3.5 million people are at risk from exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chemicals released during the fires created respiratory illnesses and cancer.
Yet, Veterans Affairs (VA) refused to pay for treatments unless vets could prove they were sick as a direct consequence of their service. It also said, by law, it couldn’t consider toxic exposure a service-related condition and denied approximately 75% of burn pit claims.
The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, aka the PACT Act, resolves the problem. It designates 23 diseases linked to military service and no longer requires former members to prove a sickness was due to one’s time in the armed forces. Not only does it cover toxic exposure over the last 20 years, but it also covers Vietnam-era-vets exposed to Agent Orange and others subjected to radiation while cleaning hazardous materials in the 1960s and 1970s. The legislation also covers family members who become ill due to toxic exposure.
Bill Faced Hurdles Before Passage
In June, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the law 84-14. Yet, after the bill made it through the upper chamber, House members noticed a Constitutional requirement stating all tax-related issues must originate in the lower chamber. The House quickly passed a bill 342-88 in early July. That’s when things broke down.
In late July, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) expressed concerns that lawmakers drafted the legislation so that the government could use it as a slush fund. Other Senators said the funding would make the nation’s economy more perilous if the spending weren’t offset elsewhere. Some went so far as to say it might break the VA system, already struggling with slow response times for urgent medical care.
The backlash from veterans groups was swift and harsh. Ultimately, all but 11 Republican Senators voted for the PACT Act, which will now head to President Joe Biden’s desk. Biden called it a bipartisan win and said it could mean the difference between life and death for those suffering from toxic illnesses.
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