Burn Pits Bill Clears Senate

It's headed to Biden's desk after 86-11 vote
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 2, 2022 4:26 PM CDT
Updated Aug 2, 2022 7:46 PM CDT
Schumer Says Deal Has Been Reached on Burn Pits Bill
Veterans, military family members, and advocates are joined by activist Jon Stewart as they call for Senate Republicans to change their votes on a bill designed to help millions of veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service, Monday, Aug. 1, 2021.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(Newser) This story has been updated with new developments. A bill to expand benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits cleared the Senate Tuesday evening—days after Jon Stewart fiercely denounced Republicans who blocked its passage. The bill was approved in an 86-11 vote and it will now head to President Biden's desk, the AP reports. "You can go home knowing the good and great thing you have done and accomplished for the United States of America," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told a group veterans and their families who had been camped out at the Capitol since the bill was blocked last Thursday. Earlier Tuesday, Schumer said a deal had been reached with Republicans, the Hill reports.

The bill passed the House in July and the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of advancing it in June, but 25 Republican senators who previously voted in favor changed their votes last week. Some Democrats accused Republicans of holding up the bill out of spite over unexpected progress on President Biden's health care and climate change plan, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell defending his party's handling of the bill Tuesday, CNN reports. "These kind of back and forths happen all the time in the legislative process, you've observed that over the years," he said. "I think in the end the veterans service organizations will be pleased with the final result."

The bill includes 10 years of enhanced health care coverage instead of the current five for Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who served near burn pits, the AP reports. It also directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to presume that some cancers and respiratory illnesses were caused by exposure to the pits, making it easier for veterans to obtain benefits. The bill also adds high blood pressure to the list of illnesses presumed to have been caused by Agent Orange exposure, a change that will make an estimated 300,000 Vietnam vets eligible for higher compensation. (Read more burn pits stories.)

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