Veterans sickened by toxic burning fireplaces get relief in Senate bill

Millions of veterans exposed to toxic burning stoves in Afghanistan and Iraq would receive better access to health care and benefits under a revised measure advanced by the Senate.

The Senate voted 84-14 Thursday in favor of the overriding House amendment passed HR 3967sending it back to the House for consideration. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)the prominent member of the committee, presented the substitute, which could cost $278.5 billion over 10 years.

“Veterans across the country are the ones paying the price of war – and they can no longer do so. No more empty promises,” Tester told the Senate last week. “We have a unique opportunity to make history with this comprehensive toxic substance exhibit package that will recognize the service and sacrifice of our veterans. We are too close to fail.

The military burns fuel, chemicals and other substances in open pits to dispose of waste. About 3.5 million veterans have been exposed to the fireplaces, which have been linked to cancer, respiratory illnesses and other illnesses.

Photographer: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

An Afghan National Army soldier walks past a fire pit at a command outpost that the US military handed over to the Afghan army in 2013 in Kandahar province, Zhari district, Afghanistan.

Some House Republicans had expressed concern about the price of the measure. The House version of the bill would cost approximately $322 billion in discretionary and mandatory spending. The Senate amendment decreased that amount because fewer veterans would be eligible for a disability award and the effective date would be pushed back, the Congressional Budget Office said. valued.

The law would expand eligibility for Veterans Affairs health care to veterans of post-9/11 wars. Twenty-three toxic exposure conditions would be added to the VA’s list of conditions presumed to be caused by military service.

BGOV Bill Summary: Senate Agreement on Benefits of VA Toxic Exposure

White House support

The VA in April said that it adds nine rare respiratory cancers to the list of disabilities caused by exposure to toxic substances during military deployments. President Joe Biden promised the move in his State of the Union address this year.

“My administration will continue to do everything in its power to support our nation’s veterans, and I urge Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to comprehensively address toxic exposures and provide more of the lifesaving benefits that our veterans won. I will sign it immediately,” Biden said in a statement at the time.

The legislation is called the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act, in honor of a veteran who died of burn pit-related lung cancer in 2020.

Among other things, the bill would also require more federal research into toxic combustion hotspots and expanded health coverage of conditions that may be linked to exposure to Agent Orange herbicide.

Veterans’ advocates, including members of Robinson’s family, urged senators to pass the amended bill.

“The Senate has the opportunity not to abandon our brave men and women, who voluntarily went to war in the name of America and are now sick and dying from exposure to fireplaces and other toxins,” Robinson’s mother-in-law Susan said. Zeier said at a press conference last week.

With the help of Roxana Tiron

To contact the reporter on this story: Mia McCarthy at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anna Yukhananov at [email protected]; Robin Meszoly at [email protected]

Norman D. Briggs