Senators Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, and Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas, announced a deal this week to provide care to veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits while serving their country. Both senators are members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and they introduced the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022.
Tester and Moran released a statement in which they said that the bill was the most comprehensive toxic exposure package that has even been given to veterans in the history of America.
“For far too long, our nation’s veterans have been living with chronic illness as a result of exposure during their time in uniform. Today, we’re taking necessary steps to right this wrong with our proposal that’ll provide veterans and their families with the health care and benefits they have earned and deserved,” the senators said in their joint statement.
This information has come after a year of negotiations that have taken place across the aisle. The work was bipartisan within both the Senate and the House veteran’s affairs committees.
This has been a priority for the White House, the president has promised to sign the legislation as quickly as possible. Biden’s new press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said that passing the legislation would be a “welcome and long-awaited achievement for the veterans who have served us so well. President Biden believes that we have a sacred obligation to support veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.”
Jean-Pierre also noted that President Biden focused on supporting veterans in his State of the Union address, calling it a “key pillar” of his Unity Agenda. This is the president’s plan to bring together Republicans and Democrats.
President Biden spoke in his address about his late son, Beau, a Major General in the Army. He was deployed in Iraq in 2009 and was exposed to toxic burn pits. The president said that it was not determined if his fatal brain cancer came from his exposure, he was committed to “find out everything we can.”
Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate, said that he plans to bring the legislation to the floor of the Senate when the chamber returns from its Memorial Day weekend. Schumer said, “Our veterans need it, they deserve it, and we have a moral obligation to take care of those who have sacrificed so much for us.”
The issue revolves around burn pits that were open-air combustion of trash and other solid waste in both Southeast Asia and Afghanistan. Some experts have estimated that 3.5 million veterans were exposed to toxic material and now qualify for care through the Department of Veteran Affairs. Both the House and the Senate have now passed measures to address this crisis, the lower chamber of the House passed a bill in March that would create a presumption of service connection for 24 types of respiratory illnesses and cancers.
The Bill led by Senators Tester and Moran is named for Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson. He was deployed to Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio National Guard. Robinson died in 2020 from his exposure to toxic waste.
This new legislation would be able to reach back to those who served after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack. It would create a framework for the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide health care eligibility for those who have 23 conditions related to toxic exposure from that attack.
Even more, the bill would reach those who have suffered from Agent Orange, a combination of herbicides that were used during the Vietnam War.
This is an example of politicians crossing the aisle to meet the significant needs of those who served our country.