A bill to boost health care and disability benefits for millions of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits is expected to receive final approval in the Senate on Tuesday, ending a brief stalemate on the measure that has angered advocates and inspired some Camp outside the Capitol.
President Joe Biden pushed for the legislation, saying the measure “fulfills our sacred duty to care for veterans and their families.”
The Senate had previously passed the legislation overwhelmingly, but it needs a new technical fix. But that process derailed last week when Republicans tried to change another aspect of the bill and prevent it from moving forward. The sudden delay angered veterans groups and advocates, including comedian Jon Stewart. It also puts Republican senators in the troubling position of delaying the top legislative priority of service organizations in this session of Congress.
A group of veterans and their families have been camping at the Capitol since that vote. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was good news for them and announced a final vote on Tuesday night.
“Veterans exposed to toxic fumes from burn pits will be treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs as they should have been treated in the first place,” Schumer said.
Some Democrats questioned whether Republicans blocked the bill in bad faith, after announcing hours earlier that key Democrats had agreed on a health, energy and tax bill that Republicans opposed and may not be able to block.
“Wait a minute. You’re not going to help our veterans because we want to lower the cost of prescription drugs because we want to lower the cost of healthcare because we want to protect the planet? You certainly don’t agree with these things, but you’re going to use it to vote Against our veterans?” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said at a news conference last week. “It’s really immoral, almost criminal.”
Republican senators rejected the allegation and said the changes they sought would not affect spending for veterans in the bill.
The bill contains two main components for veterans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans serving near burn pits will receive 10 years (instead of 5) of enhanced health care coverage through the Department of Veterans Affairs after separation from the military.
Second, legislation directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers are associated with burn pits, allowing veterans to receive disability benefits to compensate for their injuries without proving that the illness was the result of their services.
About 70 percent of disability claims related to burn pit exposure are denied by the VA due to a lack of evidence, scientific data, and information from the Department of Defense.
The military uses incinerators to dispose of items such as chemicals, cans, tires, plastics, and medical and human waste.
Hundreds of thousands of Vietnam War veterans and survivors will also benefit from this legislation. The Act treats hypertension, or high blood pressure, as a presumptive disease associated with Agent Orange exposure. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 600,000 of the 1.6 million living Vietnam Veterans will be eligible for increased compensation, but only about half of the diagnoses are severe enough to warrant more compensation.
Additionally, veterans serving in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa and Johnston Atoll will be presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. The CBO expects an additional 50,000 veterans and survivors of deceased veterans to receive compensation for illnesses presumed to be caused by herbicide exposure.
The bill is expected to increase the federal deficit by about $277 billion over 10 years, and doesn’t include offsetting spending cuts or tax increases to help pay for it.
When the CBO scored the bill, it projected that nearly $400 billion in spending on VA services would be considered mandatory rather than discretionary. The Responsible Federal Budget Committee, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, said reclassification as mandatory would “both reduce pressure to rein in these costs and make it easier for appropriators to spend more elsewhere in the budget without offsetting it.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, is seeking a vote on an amendment he said would not change spending planned for veterans programs, but rather the government’s accounting of that spending. Way.
However, when the Senate voted on the bill in June, the dynamics Toomey said also applied to the bill. Senators then voted 84 to 14 to approve the measure, raising questions about why Republicans voted against moving forward with the overhaul last week.
Veterans advocacy groups, a key voting bloc in the upcoming midterm elections, are outraged and have increased political pressure on lawmakers to act.
At a Capitol Hill news conference the day after last week’s procedural vote, speakers used words such as “villain” and “reprehensible” to describe last week’s vote against advancing the measure but a June vote for almost Republican senators with the exact same bill.
“Veterans are outraged and confused by the sudden change in the people they think support them,” said Corrititus of the Military Officers Association of America.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said veterans camping at the Capitol were exhausted and wanted to go home.
“But they won’t. They won’t go home until the work is done,” Gillibrand said.