After an unexpected hold-up by a contingency of Senate Republicans, the ‘Burn Pit Bill’ has finally passed through the Senate in a bipartisan vote of 86 to 11.
The bill would expand health care to 3.5 million veterans by removing the burden of proof from the service member. If made into law, any service member who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and exhibits symptoms consistent with burn pit exposure is entitled to treatment from the VA.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech, “For too long, our nation’s veterans have faced an absurd indignity: They enlisted to serve our country, went abroad in good health, and came back home only to get sick from toxic exposure endured while in the line of duty,” .
Schumer also noted that the Department of Veteran Affairs has been rejecting almost 80% of all burn pit related health claims.
President Joe Biden spoke on this extensively at the State of the Union Address this year, pointing out how personal the issue is to him and his family. Biden believes that his late son’s brain cancer may have been caused by exposure to burn pits during his time in service in Iraq.
Millions of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan developed rare cancers and lethal respiratory diseases after returning home to the US, some decades after their service. An overwhelming majority of these cases ended in rejection from the VA, legal battles funded by the affected service member, or death.
Prior to last week’s vote, Senate Republican Jerry Moran said, “The cost of war is not fully paid when the war is over. We are now on the verge of honoring that commitment to American veterans and their families.”
Senate Democratic and champion of the Burn Pit Bill, Kirsten Gillibrand said, “This is a day of our democracy actually working.”
The bill is scheduled to be signed into law by POTUS this coming Monday.