Senate passes veterans health bill after Republicans bow to pressure

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation expanding life-saving health care benefits for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.

The 86-11 vote came after Republicans agreed to lift the blockade on the popular bill, bowing to pressure from more than 60 veterans groups and comedian Jon Stewart who slammed Republicans for days outside the Capitol.

Braving heat, humidity and thunderstorms, many veterans who had camped on the Senate steps watched the vote from the corridors of the Senate Hall. The bill has passed the House and is now headed to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature.

Image: Comedian and activist Jon Stewart hugs Susan Zell, the late Sergeant's mother-in-law.  Heath Robinson, 1st class, before the Senate votes on the PACT Act outside the Capitol on August 2, 2022.
Comedian and activist Jon Stewart hugs Susan Zell, the late Sergeant’s mother-in-law. Heath Robinson, 1st class, before the Senate votes on the PACT Act outside the Capitol on August 2, 2022.Drew Angler/Getty Images

“This important legislation will begin to help our veterans and their families who are currently battling their own health after being caught up in military service exposure to toxic substances on the first day it was signed into law. Dilemma,” said James Birch, a 35-year-old retired Air Force staff member, who believes the sergeant, who suffered from multiple illnesses, was caused by exposure to Afghanistan’s burn pits and open cesspools.

With the passage of PACT, “Veterans across America can breathe a sigh of relief,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said as he walked out of the Capitol with Veterans Affairs Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont) Said on the floor before., thanks for the veterinarian’s advocacy. “Because of various legal obstacles and presumptions, the treatment they deserved and needed but was denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs will now no longer exist.

“Veterans exposed to toxic fumes from burn pits will be treated by Virginia like they should have been treated in the first place,” Schumer added.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey was one of the Republicans who backed the bill as he called for a vote on his amendment to put spending guardrails to ensure $280 billion cannot be spent over 10 years part of a huge package. Regarding “completely unrelated programs”. Democrats disputed Toomey’s description, saying the money would only be spent on veterans.

“Should I trust this and future Congresses to not spend big? Really? It’s unbelievable,” Toomey said before the vote. “Why would they design this feature so they can spend big?”

Toomey insisted on passing his amendment by a simple majority of 50 votes. In the end, he and other Republicans accepted Schumer’s demand that the three Republican amendments would receive a higher 60-vote threshold, essentially securing their defeat. Everything is well below that standard.

The Senate already passed the burn pit bill by a vote of 84-14 in June, but when the legislation was introduced again last week, the Republicans’ 25 votes reversed course, with many agreeing with Toomey’s spending concerns and arguing that Democrats did not give them Opportunity to modify the package. Democrats and veterans, however, believe that many Republicans voted against the bill in retaliation for the massive Democrats’ just-made deals on climate change, health care and taxes.

Over the weekend, some veterans slept on the steps of the Capitol as the GOP lockdown became increasingly untenable.

“I think they’re wearing out in terms of their ability to withstand this situation,” Stewart, who is also fighting for funding for 9/11 first responders and their families, told NBC News ahead of Tuesday’s deal announcement.

“I think this is the cruel and unusual punishment that is going on and they have to end it.”

Ali Vitaly and Frank Thorpe V contributed.

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