A bipartisan bill in the United States Senate to assist veterans who have been exposed to burn pits is on the verge of becoming law., D.C. — The United States Senate is expected to approve a broad bill in the coming days, spearheaded by Montana’s Jon Tester and Kansas’ Jerry Moran, that would increase health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits overseas — albeit a few issues have to be worked out.
On Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans were negotiating behind closed doors to establish how many changes will be proposed to the bipartisan package and how many votes each item will require to be included in the law.
Tester, the Democratic chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, told States Newsroom that he hopes to have a final vote on the bill this week, depending on how soon leaders can achieve an amendment agreement.
“The issue is that when we offer it up for revisions, it gets quite wild on both sides,” he explained.
Tester expressed his hope that only two revisions to the bill would be proposed, but he doubted that would be the final accord. While discussions are underway, Tester expressed optimism that the Senate will be able to quickly submit the bill to the House for final passage.
“We want to attempt to finish it as soon as possible.” To provide clarity, the faster the better, he said.
Moran, the panel’s top Republican, said Wednesday that he and Tester had reached an agreement on two amendments, but that party leaders will ultimately decide how many will be debated on the floor. Adding amendments could extend the debate and even affect the legislation’s details.
“Senator Tester and I have come to an agreement on what we would want to see. “But the point is,” Moran continued, referring to Senate leaders, “we have little control over that being the case.”
The two modifications would deal with community care initiatives and redefine the bill’s spending as discretionary rather than required.
Because of the change in category, funding for the new VA health care and benefits programmes would have to go through the same annual federal spending procedure as much of the other Veterans Affairs funds.
Moran’s spokeswoman stated in a statement that the senator supports the amendment, claiming that the current version of the measure “lessens congressional oversight over the VA.”
“As an appropriator, Sen. Moran works to finance the VA each year and believes that all programmes that benefit veterans should receive the Senate’s full review and thought,” the spokeswoman said.
The bill enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate, which voted 86-12 take the process forward on Tuesday.
Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy of Louisiana, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania were among the twelve Republicans who voted no on the procedural obstacle.
Named for a member of the Ohio National Guard.
In mid-May, Tester and Moran revealed that they had reached an agreement on the bipartisan bill, which is named after Ohio National Guardsman Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson.
Robinson died of lung cancer in 2020, likely as a result of the time he spent breathing in fumes from burn pits during deployments to Kosovo and Iraq. His widow, Danielle, attended the State of the Union address earlier this year.
“Cancer destroyed Heath’s lungs and body as a result of his lengthy exposure to burn pits,” President Joe Biden remarked during his remarks.
“Danielle claims Heath fought till the very last. He didn’t know how to stop fighting, and she didn’t know how to stop fighting either. She found purpose in her suffering to demand that we do better.”
Jon Stewart talks at the bill’s press conference. States Newsroom photo by Jennifer Shutt.
Several veteran service organisations, a long-time advocate and famous comedian Jon Stewart, Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich, Tester, Moran, and others met outside the United States Capitol on Tuesday to encourage fast passage of the bill.
More than 3.5 million veterans who have been exposed to burn pits since 9/11 would be eligible for VA health treatment under the bipartisan bill.
It would add 23 illnesses to the list of toxic-exposure-related ailments believed to be tied to military service, eliminating the requirement for veterans with such illnesses to prove their illnesses were linked to their deployments to the VA.
More resources would be directed to VA health care centres, workers, and claims processing, as well as government hazardous exposure studies.
The bill would also broaden presumptions for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical employed by the US military during the Vietnam War. American Samoa, Cambodia, Guam, Johnston Atoll, Laos, and Thailand would all be added to the list of places where veterans are suspected of having been exposed to the substance.
On the Senate floor on Wednesday, Tester said the $278.5 billion costs of paying these veterans’ health care and entitlements would be “substantial,” but that it was the “cost of war.”
“This bill will put the Veterans Administration and this country on the correct track to addressing decades of inaction and failure by our government, by us, to pay for the costs of war,” Tester said.
The final bipartisan deal is significantly closer to the version approved by House lawmakers 256-174 in early March than the $1 billion proposals offered in February by Tester and Moran.
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House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano, a California Democrat, said in a statement that the senators “were able to capitalise on the bipartisan momentum established only a few months ago in the United States House of Representatives, and negotiate an agreement and route ahead.”
“We cannot let expense or implementation problems stand in the way of fulfilling our pledge – toxic-exposed veterans do not have time to wait,” Takano stressed.