A new bill that would expand VA benefits to Veterans affected by burn pits is headed to the United States Senate. On March 3, the U.S House of Representatives passed the Honoring Our Promise to Address Toxics Act which will extend benefits for Veterans with health conditions related to toxic fumes from open-air “burn pits.”
The Honoring Our Promise to Address Toxics Act, or Honoring Our PACT Act, was intended to address congressional and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs standards that hampered Veterans from receiving care for conditions linked to their service. Ultimately, the PACT Act will address the two main reasons that Congress and the VA have failed to help Veterans with toxic illnesses:
- Cost issues
- Lack of rigid scientific proof
Specifically, the bill expands eligibility for VA healthcare for more than 3.5 million Veterans exposed to burn pit fumes in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill establishes the presumption of a service connection for disability benefit claims, covering 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers linked to burn pit exposure.
“This bill addresses the true cost of war and opposing it would be a vote against our servicemembers and veterans,” Mark Takano said on the House Floor.
Approximately 82% of post 9/11 Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan report being exposed to burn pits and other airborne toxic materials during their service. About half of those believe that they have symptoms associated with the exposure. In addition, 41% are unsure if their symptoms are related.
The bill passed with a final vote of 256-174, with only 34 Republicans voting in favor of the bill.
Republican lawmakers voted against the bill in favor of an amendment unanimously passed by the Senate that would’ve made the Honoring Our PACT Act less costly. The Senate bill would expand VA healthcare eligibility to post 9/11 Veterans from five to 10 years by creating a new open enrollment period for any veterans who didn’t enroll within five years of their discharge. In addition, the Senate bill would require several studies related to toxic exposure in the military and require toxic exposure screens for all Vets during VA health visits.
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