The House passed long-awaited legislation on Wednesday that would help millions of veterans exposed to toxic fire pits during their military service.
The bill, which removes the burden on veterans to prove that their exposure to toxic substances led to certain harmful conditions, passed the House by 342-88 votes, correcting a legislative problem that the legislation had held up during the recess. of July 4.
Years in the making, it will now go back to the Senate for final passage and to President Joe Biden’s office. Once signed into law, it would amount to a major two-pronged victory.
Fire pits were commonly used to incinerate waste, including everyday waste, munitions, hazardous materials and chemical compounds at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan until about 2010.
These massive open-air burns, often operated on or near military bases, released dangerous toxins into the air that, when exposed, could have caused short- and long-term health problems, according to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
If signed into law, the bill would broadly expand health care resources and benefits to those exposed to fire pits and could provide coverage for up to 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans. It adds conditions associated with burns and toxic exposure, including hypertension, to the VA’s list of illnesses contracted or aggravated during military service.
A 2020 survey by advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 86% of its members were exposed to fire pits or other toxins. According to previous statements by Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican and member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, the VA has denied about 70% of veterans’ burn claims since 9/11.
Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, who went on three tours of Iraq with the U.S. military as a CIA analyst before joining Congress, called the bill “landmark legislation” in an interview with DailyExpertNews’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” on Wednesday .
“It’s actually one of the biggest things we’ve seen in the last 30 years for veteran health care,” she said Wednesday.
Final approval of the bill would also be a huge achievement for Biden. The president has argued for the legislation and has said publicly that he believes burns caused the brain cancer that killed his son Beau — an Iraq War veteran who died in 2015 — but noted that he “can’t prove it yet.” ”.
Biden has vowed to fund research into the long-term effects of burn exposure, and since his son’s death, he has made several attempts to fund cancer research.