Few Americans understand the risks that U.S. veterans are exposed to. Beyond bullets and mortars, these risks extend well beyond the battlefield. Did you know that 3.5 million veterans were exposed to toxic burn pits while serving in the military after September 11, 2001?
One of the most egregious situations involved how the military disposed of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan. From 2010 to 2015, the Department of Defense burned waste in open-air pits. As a result, our nation’s service members were exposed to toxins that yielded long-term health complications.
To rectify this situation, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the PACT Act bill. However, the bill is currently being blocked in the U.S. Senate. Continue reading for an update on the legislation and what is next for our veterans.
What Are Toxic Burn Pits?
The U.S. military unwisely handled jet fuel, medical, human, and other waste during foreign operations. They dumped the waste into open-air pits and burned it.
The smoke caused by these burn pits carried toxic substances. Experts conclude that smoke inhaled from toxic burn pits contained lead, mercury, hydrocarbons, dioxins, and benzene.
These substances are not healthy to inhale. They are known to cause lung cancer and other serious respiratory illnesses.
What Is the PACT Act?
The federal PACT Act stands for our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act of 2022. The bill is also named after Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson. Tragically, Robinson died of lung cancer in 2020, a disease that many attributed to his exposure to toxic burn pits.
The PACT Act extends federal health care benefits to U.S. veterans exposed to toxins. The bill also considers Vietnam-era veterans that were exposed to Agent Orange.
What Is the Status of the Legislation?
The bill to expand veterans’ healthcare for burn pit victims is currently stalled in the Senate. The bipartisan legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives. A previous version of the bill already passed the Senate.
However, the House made modifications to the bill requiring the Senate to take up the updated version. While the legislation received eight votes from GOP Senators, this was not enough to pass the 60-vote threshold to proceed.
The opposing GOP Senators claim that the bill includes $400 million of unrelated spending. Further, they contend that the nation cannot afford excessive deficit spending during this period of high inflation. The GOP’s position on the bill has been met with outrage from the Democratic counterparts and veterans desperately waiting for the health care benefits.
What Is Next for the Legislation?
This does not mean the legislation is dead. There is strong support on both sides of the aisle for extending health benefits to burn pit victims. However, the two sides will need to negotiate and make adjustments to the legislation for it to proceed to the President’s desk for signature.
The original bill passed the Senate by a margin of 84-14. With some concessions on spending, there is optimism that the bill ultimately is enacted into law. If you want to keep current with the status of the PACT Act, follow military news and benefits at USMilitary.org.