Senators reached agreement on a bipartisan burning fireplaces bill, marking a major step forward for veterans battling for access to health care and disability benefits when they return from duty. a sick and dying deployment as a result of toxic exposure.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Sen. Jerry Moran announced on Wednesday that they had reached an agreement on the legislation after a year of negotiations.
The senior Democrat and Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said in a joint statement that the legislative package up for a vote is now “the most comprehensive toxic exposure package the Senate has ever delivered to veterans in the world.” history of this country.
“For far too long, our nation’s veterans have lived with chronic illnesses as a result of exposures during their time in uniform,” Senators Tester and Moran said in their joint statement.
“Today, we are taking the necessary steps to right that wrong with our proposal that will provide veterans and their families with the health care and benefits they have earned and deserve. »
The full burn pit bill – named the SFC Heath Robinson PACT Act – passed the House last month, with all Democrats and 34 Republicans voting in favor of its passage.
If passed in the Senate now, the legislation will link 23 cancers, respiratory illnesses and other ailments to a veteran’s exposure to burning fireplaces while deployed overseas.
It could be promulgated as early as July.
During America’s wars after 9/11, huge open pits were used to burn mountains of trash, including food packaging, human waste, and military hardware at bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thousands of US service members have returned home from deployment and developed health problems including rare cancers, lung ailments, respiratory illnesses and toxic brain damage from inhaling toxic fumes from the pits.
A staggering 3.5 million service members and veterans were exposed to fire pits and airborne toxins while serving in the United States, according to Veterans Affairs estimates. United overseas.
But, at present, the burden of proof is on veterans to prove that their condition is directly caused by this toxic exposure and therefore only about one in five disability benefit claims where combustion fireplaces are cited is VA approved.
If the PACT Act passes the Senate, veterans returning from overseas deployments sick and dying will finally have automatic access to the health care and disability benefits they need.
Veterans’ advocates welcomed Wednesday’s news, which means the bill is set to pass after the community fought for more than a decade to get the US government to take the issue seriously. .
“Nothing’s done until it’s done…but it’s nice to see,” tweeted Jon Stewart, the comedian and veterans advocate.
John Feal, a 9/11 responder who lobbied for passage of the PACT Act, tweeted: “Friends – This humiliated mentally and physically flawed man who doesn’t have the DNA to quit or accept no for an answer always knew we would get it done (#14).
“My will is stronger than anyone’s politics. To everyone who worked on it. I’m so proud of you. Now the journey is changing!”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who have both urged lawmakers to pass the legislation, also welcomed the announcement.
“Our veterans need it, they deserve it, and we have a moral obligation to care for those who have sacrificed so much for us,” said Senator Schumer.
Speaker Pelosi said the bill was “almost identical” to the House bill.
A key difference between the House version and the agreement reached in the Senate is that there would be a phase-in period for suspected illnesses linked to toxic exposure.
The announcement that a bipartisan agreement has been reached on the legislation comes just weeks after the Biden administration added nine respiratory cancers to the list of illnesses presumed to be caused by toxic exposure to fireplaces.
The new conditions are: squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx; squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea adenocarcinoma of the trachea; salivary gland-like tumors of the trachea; adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung; large cell carcinoma of the lung; salivary gland type lung tumors; sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung; and typical and atypical carcinoid of the lungs.
President Joe Biden had announced the addition of the nine conditions in his State of the Union address, where he promised to better support American veterans returning from war sick and dying from their service.
In the president’s biggest annual speech, he spoke about his belief that his own son Beau Biden’s death could have been caused by burning fires and shared the story of the late Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson.
Sgt Robinson died in May 2020 at the age of 39 from a rare form of cancer caused by toxic exposure to burning fireplaces while serving in Iraq with the Ohio National Guard in 2006 and 2007.
Before his death, he and his wife Danielle Robinson fought for other veterans who were sick and dying from exposure to burning fireplaces so they could have access to much-needed health care and benefits when they returned home. after serving their country overseas.
The bill was renamed last month in honor of Sgt Robinson.
Mrs. Robinson said The Independent in April that it was “bittersweet” to see her husband honored with Bill’s name change.
“There are a lot of different emotions that play a part in that,” she said.
“It’s an honor for him and his memory will live on, but at the same time I’d rather he was alive with us.”
She added: ‘I can’t help but think of all the other widows who deserve to have their loved ones named on the PACT Act.
“It’s not just about our story, it’s about all the other widows who are struggling and losing their loved ones to toxic exposure to burn hearths and it’s about all the current veterans who are trying to fight for the health care they deserve.”
The Independent Gt