The top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee announced Wednesday a deal that would help military veterans who have been exposed to toxic burn pits.
Jon Tester, D-Mont. Jerry Moran, R- Kan., said the agreement came after a year of intense negotiations with their House counterparts, the White House and veterans groups.
This bipartisan legislation is the most comprehensive toxic exposure package the Senate has ever delivered to veterans in this country s history, they said in a joint statement.
The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act - or PACT Act - would expand VA health care eligibility to post-9/11 combat veterans. The senators said more than 3.5 million people were exposed to toxins while serving in the military.
The Senate said that if passed, the legislation would improve claims processing to meet the immediate and future needs of every veteran it serves, bringing relief for those living with chronic illnesses as a result of exposures during their time in uniform.
During the Vietnam War, the legislation would make it easier for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide used to clear vegetation in military operations.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he strongly supported the bipartisan agreement, which was first reported by CNN, and would put it up for a vote in early June.
Schumer said that our veterans need it, they deserve it, and we have a moral obligation to take care of those who sacrificed so much for us.
During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, open-air burn pits were common at U.S. military bases. Dangerous materials ranging from electronics and vehicles to human waste were frequently doused in jet fuel and set ablaze, spewing toxic fumes and carcinogens into the air.
President Joe Biden, who has championed the PACT Act, believes that his late son Beau Biden's brain cancer was linked to his exposure to burn pits while deployed in Iraq in 2008.
Comedian Jon Stewart, who lobbied for legislation on behalf of veterans' groups and testified before Congress on the issue, is holding a rally in Washington later this month to urge Congress to pass the bill.
It was named after Heath Robinson, who served as a sergeant with the Ohio National Guard and was deployed to Kosovo and Iraq. He died of lung cancer in 2020, which he blamed on burn pit exposure.
Robinson told the Columbus Dispatch in 2020 that they don't regret that service. I just wish that this could be different with the burn pits and people being held accountable.