February 22, 2024

The Senate is set to vote Tuesday on the PACT Act, a bill to expand health care benefits for veterans who developed illnesses from exposure to burns during military service.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday afternoon that he and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had reached an agreement and a vote would be held later that evening. Schumer said there would be three amendments – two amendments that need 60 votes to move forward and 60 votes to end debate on the bill.

“I’m very optimistic that this bill will pass,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “So our veterans across America can breathe a sigh of relief… It’s taken a while to get here, but I’m grateful for the bipartisan cooperation and support that will allow us to move forward today.”

The legislation would extend benefits for about 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The legislation would remove the burden of proof from veterans seeking care for conditions related to burn exposure, assuming that certain conditions, including terminal cancers, are related to the exposure.

Veterans of Congress Burn Pits
Veterans, military family members and advocates gather outside the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, to support a bill that boosts health care and disability benefits for millions of veterans exposed to toxic burns.

Mariam Zuhaib / AP

Burn pits are holes in the ground that the US military dug near bases in countries that had limited infrastructure, where troops dumped trash and burned it for disposal.

The legislation has drawn opposition from some Republicans, including GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, while comedian John Stewart he has spent time on Capitol Hill trying to rally support.

The bill initially passed the House and the Senate in June, but due to a language snag, it had to go back to the House and Senate before it could be sent to President Biden’s office. The legislation again passed the House but failed to advance a procedural vote in the Senate last week. Twenty-five Republican senators who voted for the bill in June voted against advancing the bill last week, citing objections to how the legislation would be paid for.

Republican Sen. Toomey of Pennsylvania has opposed since June a provision in the legislation’s language that would have moved $400 billion in pre-existing veterans spending from discretionary spending to mandatory spending, arguing that frees up money that could be used on items not related to veterans.

Mr. Biden has blamed the burns about the health problems of his late son, Beau Biden, who died of a brain tumor in 2015. In a 2019 speech to the Service Employees International Union, then-candidate Biden said because of his son’s “exposure to burns, during my opinion, I can’t prove it yet, it came back with stage four glioblastoma.”

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