The bill would benefit some 3.5 million veterans who have developed cancer and other illnesses after being exposed to the fumes.
The United States Senate has approved a sweeping expansion of health care and disability benefits for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in response to concerns about their exposure to toxic burning stoves.
The bill passed Thursday is expected to increase federal spending by about $283 billion over 10 years and does not include offsetting spending cuts or tax increases to help pay for them.
If enacted, the bill would benefit nearly 3.5 million veterans who developed cancer and other illnesses after being exposed to fumes from pits that were sometimes as big as a playground. soccer.
The pits were used to burn trash including plastic tires, batteries, explosives, human excreta and chemicals.
“For too long, our country’s veterans have faced a senseless indignity: they enlisted to serve our country, went overseas healthy, and only came home to fall ill from illnesses. ‘toxic exposure suffered in the line of duty,’ the Senate Majority Leader said. Chuck Schumer said in a speech to the Senate.
The bill is a personal concern for President Joe Biden, who believes his late son Beau’s fatal brain cancer could have been caused by such a pit since he served in Iraq.
Officials note that about 80% of disability claims related to fireplaces have been denied by the Veterans Administration.
The bill would expand military veterans’ eligibility for medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs by extending coverage for 10 years after discharge instead of the current five years.
The legislation would also assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were linked to exposure to the burn pit, allowing veterans to obtain disability benefits to compensate for their injury without having to prove that the illness was the result of their service.
“The cost of war is not fully paid when the war is over. We are now poised to honor that commitment to American veterans and their families,” Republican Senator Jerry Moran said ahead of Thursday’s vote.
The bill will also expand coverage for service members exposed to Agent Orange, a herbicide used by the US military during the Vietnam War.
“This is a day when our democracy actually works,” Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who championed the bill in the Senate, said at a press conference after the vote.
The measure will now go to the House of Representatives for a vote before being sent to Biden’s office for signing into law.
National Nurses United (NNU), a union of registered nurses in the United States, hailed the successful vote in the Senate and urged the House to pass the legislation “to ensure that more veterans have access to this primary care class”.
“As nurses who are on the front lines of providing top quality care to veterans, we know how essential VA health care services are for our patients, and we are thrilled to see the Senate adopt a legislation that will allow millions more veterans to access the safe and therapeutic care we provide,” Irma Westmoreland, president of the NNU Veterans Division, said in a statement.