PACT Act finally passes US Senate
Mlitary.com reported this week that, “Whoops of victory and tears of joy broke out in the U.S. Senate chamber as the legislative body finally passed the bill that will provide health care and disability compensation to millions of veterans sickened by environmental exposures during their time in service.”
The U.S. Senate voted 86-11 to pass the PACT Act. Its official name is the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act.
The final vote came six days after the bill had collapsed in the Senate. The bill’s failure sparked protests from veterans and their families at the U.S. Capitol. The protest brought national attention to veterans who have suffered illnesses linked to their living and working near open-air burn pits used for waste disposal. Other soldiers have been injured by radiation, herbicides, and chemicals found or used on battlefields, or polluted drinking water at places like Camp Lejeune.
The bill will be sent now to President Joe Biden, who is expected to soon sign it into law.
Senate Democrats and Republicans had first passed the bill last month, then fought over certain provisions which resulted in three lawmakers offering amendments that worked out their differences. The means of paying for the legislation was the main issue which temporarily sidelined the bill, in addition to how to keep the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ private health care program viable. The VA is at risk of being overwhelmed by new patients.
The measure passed after securing the 60 votes it needed.
The Senate voted on July 27 to move the bill to Biden’s desk, but a few days later it fell short of the 60 votes needed to push it to a final vote.
Veterans and advocates expressed outrage at that failure. They had worked for years to help post-9/11 veterans – as well as those from other eras – who had been poisoned by inhaled chemicals or exposed to carcinogens during their service. So many had been guaranteed access to health care and disability benefits, but they had not gotten the help they needed.
The holdup was that even though the Senate in June passed the bill on an 84-14 vote, House lawmakers found that it contained language violating the Constitution’s requirement that tax-related issues start in the lower chamber. The objectionable section would have given tax incentives to health care workers in order to encourage them to move to rural VA facilities.
The House then re-booted earlier this month, then passed a version of the bill without the tax language, voting 342-88. That vote moved the PACT Act back to the Senate, which then failed to pass the vote. However, the third time contained the new language and the agreed upon revisions, and then the vote passed.
National commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Tim Borland, said: “Today’s passage of the PACT Act is a landmark victory for veterans of all ages, of all conflicts and their families. Too many of our veterans have suffered over the years from effects of toxic exposure, with no medical care, no recompense and no support to their loved ones.”
The PACT Act expands health care and benefits to post-9/11 veterans who were injured by their exposure to toxic burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places where trash was incinerated, along with other environmental hazards, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), depleted uranium, petrochemicals, and toxic water.
Camp Lejeune Water Pollution Injuries Included
The bill names 23 diseases which are thought to be linked to military service. It paves the way for veterans to receive expedited health services and disability compensation, but without their having to provide proof that their illness was service-related.
The PACT Act also contains help for veterans who served in previous military operations. It would expand benefits for Vietnam-era veterans who later developed hypertension from Agent Orange. It would also allow veterans and family members sickened by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to file lawsuits. In addition, it expands coverage for veterans exposed to radiation from hazardous duty or hazardous cleanup operations in the 1960s and 1970s.
- Camp Lejeune Justice Act H.R. 6482 (.pdf)
- Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Thryroid Cancer
- Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Survivors
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