EDITORIAL: Veterans stand up, win on Toxic Exposure Bill

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Aug. 4—It appears U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe listened to upset veterans this past week who admonished him and Sen. James Lankford for voting to block a bill meant to provide expanded benefits for service members exposed to burn pits and other toxins during oversees tours.

Called the Toxic Exposure Bill, the measure was stalled by Republican opposition last week; however, Inhofe ended up voting this week for the measure, which passed by a vote of 86-11 in the Senate. Lankford continued to vote against the bill.

This bill is another example of political gamesmanship, this time by the Democrats, who Republicans claimed put in the measures to reclassify nearly $400 billion in current-law VA spending from discretionary to mandatory accounts, thereby potentially freeing up more budget authority to increase discretionary spending on other domestic programs.

Sen. Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, was the outspoken opponent of the "budget gimmick" and voted to introduce an amendment to change it.

The original failure of the bill sparked outrage among veterans and advocates who have worked for years to ensure that post-9/11 veterans and those from other eras who inhaled chemicals or were exposed to carcinogens during service were guaranteed access to health care and disability benefits.

Veterans didn't take no for an answer. They camped out at the Capitol in high heat and driving rain storms to force the Senate to reconsider.

There were a series of negotiations and two other amendments offered to fix the bill for Republicans. The amendments didn't pass, but the Republicans could not overcome the optics of opposing the measure, so it passed.

There's really no debate that the veterans deserve these expanded benefits. And although the Republicans likely were correct in their concerns about the so-called budget gimmick, going against veterans on this measure was not good politics.

The winners are the veterans, and that's what really matters. Political losses don't hold a candle to what our veterans have sacrificed to protect our nation and freedoms.

— Enid News and Eagle Editorial Board