The Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation that would expand veterans’ health care with a focus on victims who suffered from the burn outbreaks that were created in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lawmakers passed the legislation Thursday, Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson honoring our PACT Act of 2022, months after Senate Veterans Affairs Committee leaders announced a bipartisan agreement moving forward. The bill will now go to the House, and if passed there, it will then go to the office of the President.
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The passing of the legislation represents the culmination of years of protests and advocacy on behalf of nonprofits, victims and allies. Servicemen suffering from the effects of hotbeds have been compared to those who faced Agent Orange half a century ago during the Vietnam War.
If passed into law, the proposal will expand VA health care eligibility for post-9/11 veterans, 3.5 million of whom were exposed to toxins, create a framework for future similar services, will strengthen federal research on toxic exposure, improve VA resources, and expand conditions related to the list of VA presumptions of service.
Sen. John Tester (D-MT) told reporters after the vote, which was 84 to 14, that he was told the House could vote on their version of the bill as early as next week. He also said veterans could start seeing the impacts of the legislation in some ways as soon as it is enacted, while other features will take time to implement.
“This bill will provide expanded access to health care and disability benefits for veterans injured by certain toxic exposures, whether in the jungles of Vietnam or the mountains of Afghanistan,” said President Joe Biden in a statement. “It will also enable the Department of Veterans Affairs to act more quickly and more comprehensively in the future to determine if illnesses are service-related, and it will provide critical support to survivors who have been injured by exposures, including water contamination at Camp LeJeune. Importantly, the bill includes the tools and resources necessary to ensure the VA can implement it effectively.”
Susan Zeier, the mother-in-law of Sgt. Heath Robinson, the deceased serviceman whose name is the origin of the bill’s name, spoke alongside lawmakers responsible for the legislation. She started wearing her son-in-law’s army jacket in 2018 and said she would finally take it off during this comprehensive veterans health care.
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“So I’ve been wearing it since about the summer of 2018, and today, with this bill passing the Senate, I think it’s time to pull it out,” she said. “I no longer have to carry this on my shoulders while I stand up for all the other veterans who are sick and dying. And we’re not worried about this bill getting through the House because we know it will. will do, so I consider it done today.”
Jon Stewart, the veteran comedian and advocate, added: “It doesn’t solve anyone’s problem. It just takes the burden off their fight that never should have been there in the first place. And I’m incredibly excited to see this that will follow for these groups.”