Senate Passes Burn Pits Legislation, Expanding Benefits for Veterans

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday accepted 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. navy bases, sending President Biden laws that might increase medical care eligibility to an estimated 3.5 million individuals.

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

The measure could be the most important enlargement of veterans’ advantages for the reason that Agent Orange Act of 1991, which elevated entry to look after Vietnam Warfare veterans who had been uncovered to the poisonous herbicide that endangered generations of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians.

The brand new laws would successfully presume that any American service member stationed in a fight zone for the final 32 years might 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 Home accepted 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 mind most cancers that killed his son Beau Biden, who served in Iraq, in 2015.

“While we can never fully repay the enormous debt we owe to those who have worn the uniform, today the United States Congress took important action to meet this sacred obligation,” he stated in an announcement on Tuesday evening, including that the laws “could be the difference between life and death for many suffering from toxic related illnesses.”

The invoice 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 permit them an opportunity to restrict the funding out there to deal with veterans.

The invoice would supply assured funding for treating veterans uncovered to toxins by establishing a devoted fund that might 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 method that would permit for immense new spending unrelated to veterans’ care.

Mr. Toomey tried and didn’t cap the sum of money that could possibly be put into the fund yearly, a transfer that Denis McDonough, the secretary of veterans affairs, had warned might result in “rationing of care for vets.”

Mr. Toomey additionally proposed shifting the fund for treating veterans into so-called discretionary spending after a decade, that means that the Division of Veterans Affairs must request funding annually. That will topic the funding to Congress’s approval and the annual partisan spending battles on Capitol Hill, moderately than having it assured.

Democrats opposed each efforts, saying the laws didn’t should 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 Military Nationwide Guard for whom the invoice is called, had been protesting outdoors the Capitol for days to induce 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 known as the Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Handle Complete 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.”