Buried in the realities of war and the Pentagon’s negligence when it comes to preventing downstream illness of personnel is the dirty secret that many of America’s veterans have been injured by the toxins used by the military against the enemy. It is the most insidious sort of friendly fire, and a bill working its way through Congress is set to at least admit that Agent Orange is not the only chemical used in war that had a negative downstream effect years after service in war theaters.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., and committee ranking member Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., announced in a Wednesday morning statement that they have reached an agreement on what they called “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,” they added. “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 bill could help an estimated 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other airborne hazards while serving to get medical coverage and other benefits they have often been denied under Department of Veterans Affairs arguments that there was not enough evidence linking their diseases to their military service.
The full text of the agreement was not immediately released, but a summary included in Tester and Moran’s news release indicates it retains some of the key provisions of a wide-ranging House-passed toxic exposure bill, such as designating 23 diseases, including hypertension, as presumed to be linked to burn pits and other airborne hazards.
The bill, now named the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act in honor of a veteran who died of lung cancer after being exposed to burn pits in Iraq, would also create a framework for establishing future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure, according to the summary.
With a price tag of over two hundred billion dollars, many Republican lawmakers are loathed to vote for this measure even as they claim to support the troops and veterans. Joe Biden has said he will sign the measure when it reaches his desk.