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Senators reach deal on bipartisan burn pits bill marking step forward for veterans

Senators reach deal on bipartisan burn pits bill marking step forward for veterans
The SFC Heath Robinson PACT Act could be signed into law as soon as July after the veteran community has spent more than a decade fighting for the US government to take the issue seriously

Senators have reached a deal on a bipartisan burn pits bill marking a major step forward for veteranos fighting for access to healthcare and disability benefits when they return from deployment sick and dying as a result of toxic exposure.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester and Republican Senator Jerry Moran announced on Wednesday that they had come to an agreement on the legislation after a year of negotiations.

The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Veterans´ Affairs Committee said in a joint statement that the legislation package heading to a vote is now the “most comprehensive toxic exposure package the Senate has ever delivered to veterans in this country’s history”.

“For far too long, our nation’s veterans have been living with chronic illnesses as a result of exposures during their time in uniform,” said Senators Tester and Moran in their joint statement.

“Today, we’re taking necessary steps to right this wrong with our proposal that’ll provide veterans and their families with the health care and benefits they have earned and deserve.”

The comprehensive burn pits bill – named the SFC Heath Robinson PACT Act – passed the House last month, with all Democrats and 34 Republicans voting in favour of its passage.

If it now passes the Senate, the law will presumptively link 23 cancers, respiratory illnesses and other conditions to a veterans’ exposure to burn pits while on deployment overseas.

It could be signed into law as soon as July.

During America’s post-September 11 wars, huge open-air pits were used to burn mountains of trash including food packaging, human waste and military equipment on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thousands of US service members returned home from deployment and developed health conditions including rare cancers, lung conditions, respiratory illnesses and toxic brain injuries caused by breathing in the toxic fumes from the pits.

A staggering 3.5m servicemembers and veterans have been exposed to burn pits and airborne toxins while serving the US overseas, according to estimates from the Veterans Affairs office.

Mas, Atualmente, the burden of proof is on veterans to prove their condition is directly caused by this toxic exposure and so only around one in five claims for disability benefits where burn pits are cited are approved by the VA.

If the PACT Act passes the Senate, veterans who return from overseas deployment sick and dying will finally be given automatic access to the healthcare and disability benefits that they need.

Veteran advocates welcomed Wednesday’s news that means the bill is edging closer to being passed into law after the community has fought for more than a decade for the US government to take the issue seriously.

“Nothing is done til it’s donebut this is nice to see,” tweeted Jon Stewart, the comedian and veterans advocate.

John Feal, uma 9/11 responder who has lobbied for the passage of the PACT Act, tweetou: “FriendsThis humbled mentally & physically flawed man who does not have the DNA to quit or accept no for an answer always knew we would get this done (#14).

“My will is strong then anyone’s politics. To all those who worked on this. I am so proud of you. Now the journey changes!”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who have both urged lawmakers to pass the legislation, also welcomed the announcement.

“Our veterans need it, they deserve it, and we have a moral obligation to take care of those who have sacrificed so much for us,” said Senator Schumer.

Speaker Pelosi said that the bill was “nearly identical” to the House bill.

One key difference between the House version and the agreement reached in the Senate is that there would be a phase-in period for illnesses presumptively linked to toxic exposure.

The announcement that a bipartisan deal has been reached on the legislation comes just weeks after the Biden administration added nine respiratory cancers to the list of illnesses presumed to be caused by toxic exposure to burn pits.

The new conditions are: squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx; squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea adenocarcinoma of the trachea; salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea; adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung; large cell carcinoma of the lung; salivary gland-type tumors of the lung; sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung; and typical and atypical carcinoid of the lungs.

President Joe Biden had announced the addition of the nine conditions in his State of the Union address, where he promised to better support US veterans returning from war sick and dying from their service.

In the president’s biggest annual address, he spoke of his belief that his own son Beau Biden’s death could have been caused by burn pits and shared the story of the late Sgt First Class Heath Robinson.

Sgt Robinson died in May 2020 envelhecido 39 from a rare form of cancer caused by toxic exposure to burn pits while serving in Iraque in the Ohio National Guard in 2006 e 2007.

Antes de sua morte, he and his wife Danielle Robinson fought for other veterans who are sick and dying from burn pits exposure to get access to much-needed healthcare and benefits when they return home from serving their country overseas.

The bill was renamed last month in honour of Sgt Robinson.

Ms Robinson told O Independente back in April that it was “bittersweet” to see her husband being honoured with the renaming of the bill.

“There’s lots of different emotions playing a part in it," ela disse.

“It’s an honour to him and his memory is going to live on through it but at the same time I’d rather have him alive with us.”

Ela adicionou: “I can’t help but think of all the other widows who are deserving of having their loved ones named on the PACT Act.

“It’s not just about our story but all of the other widows out there fighting the battle and losing their loved ones because of toxic exposure to burn pits and it’s about all the current veterans trying to fight for the healthcare they deserve.”