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Senate passes PACT Act, providing billions in aid for US veterans exposed to burn pits, after 41 GOP senators blocked passage last week

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protesters in DC hold signs saying "pass the PACT Act" and "Senators lie, veterans die"
Veterans and supporters of the PACT act demonstrate outside the U.S. Capitol Building on August 02, 2022 in Washington, DC.Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
  • The Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that will provide aid to veterans exposed to burn pits.

  • The measure was approved by a vote of 86-11.

  • The legislation will become law when is is signed by President Joe Biden.

The US Senate voted 86-11 on Tuesday to provide billions of dollars in new aid to military veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other sources of potentially lethal toxins while deployed abroad.

The PACT Act will expand health coverage for an estimated 3.5 million former soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, where burn pits were used to dispose of trash, sewage, and medical waste, exposing those nearby to toxins that have been linked to respiratory issues and cancer. The bill also helps soldiers who were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Veterans groups had complained that, under existing law, many have had their claims for care from the Department of Veterans Affairs were denied because they were unable to directly link their ailments to their deployments. The new legislation stipulates that the burden of proof is removed for all who suffer illnesses potentially related to burn-pit exposure.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer thanked those who had agitated for the bill.

"I especially want to thank the veterans who camped at the foot of Capitol Hill for the past few days enduring scorching heat and drenching rain just to get to this point," the New York Democrat said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Passage follows backlash

An earlier version of the bill passed the Senate in June by an 84-14 margin. But after Democrats reached a deal on a reconciliation package that will provide a massive injection of cash into efforts to mitigate climate change and lower healthcare costs, Republicans blocked a second vote approving the version that had been passed by the House on a 342-88 vote.

Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, accused Democrats of trying to "sneak in" $400 billion in new mandatory spending — although the version passed in June included the same language. Democrats pushed back by arguing that the mandatory spending was designed to protect veterans' benefits from being eroded in the near future.

Ultimately, 41 Republicans voted against the bill the second time around, including 25 who had backed it in June.

That prompted an uproar, led by comedian Jon Stewart, who called the vote against a bill that most Republicans had previously supported "corruption at its finest." Veterans of Foreign Wars, the largest veterans group, likewise accused the 25 Republicans of "risking more veterans getting sick and dying every day" they delayed the legislation.

The bill will become law after it is signed by President Joe Biden.

Read the original article on Business Insider