EXPLANATION: How Vet Healthcare Became a Battle in Congress


WASHINGTON (UKTN) — A bill that would improve health care and disability benefits for millions of veterans exposed to toxic burns ran into trouble in the Senate last week, angering proponents such as comedian Jon Stewart who say government aid is already underway. long to come.

Lawmakers are increasingly hearing from voters with respiratory illnesses and cancers they attribute to serving near burns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military used the pits to dispose of chemicals, cans, tires, plastic, medical and human waste, among other things.

Veteran groups say military personnel exposed to the pits have waited long enough for improved health benefits, and lawmakers largely agree. The Senate is expected to eventually send the measure to President Joe Biden’s office. The only question is when.

Where the problem is:


First, veterans who served near fire pits get 10 years of health care coverage through the Department of Veterans Affairs upon their separation from the military instead of five.

Second, the legislation instructs the VA to assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were linked to burn exposure. This removes the burden of proof from the veteran, allowing them to receive disability benefits to compensate for their injury without having to prove that the illness was a result of their service.

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About 70% of disability claims related to burn exposure are rejected by the VA due to lack of evidence, scientific data and information from the Department of Defense.

IS THERE HELP FOR OTHER VETERANS? Yes. For example, hundreds of thousands of veterans and survivors of the Vietnam War will also benefit. The bill adds hypertension or high blood pressure as a suspected illness linked to Agent Orange exposure. The Congressional Budget Office predicted that about 600,000 of the 1.6 million living Vietnam veterans would qualify for higher compensation, although only about half would be serious enough to receive it.

Veterans who served in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa and Johnston Atoll are also believed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. That’s another 50,000 veterans and survivors of deceased veterans who would receive compensation for illnesses believed to have been caused by their exposure to the herbicide, the CBO predicted.


The bill is expected to increase federal deficits by about $277 billion in 10 years, the CBO said. Legislators have not included compensatory cuts or tax increases to help pay for the expenses.

WHERE IS THE STAND AT THE CONGRESS? Both the House and Senate passed the bill by an overwhelming majority. The Senate did so in June, but the bill included an income-related provision that must come from the House, requiring an overhaul to make a technical solution.

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The House passed the standing bill by 342-88 votes. So now the measure is back before the Senate, where the previous iteration was passed by a vote of 84-14. Biden says he will sign it.


When the CBO noted the bill, it predicted that nearly $400 billion expected to be spent on health services would shift from discretionary spending to mandatory spending, which is usually shielded from the bruises that happen each year about where to spend the money. to credit accounts.

The Committee on a Responsible Federal Budget, an impartial fiscal watchdog, said a reclassification of nearly $400 billion from discretionary to mandatory “would both ease the pressure to keep those costs in check and make it easier for borrowers to move elsewhere in the country.” budget to spend more without compensating.”

Those dynamics also applied to the bill when the Senate approved it in June. Nevertheless, the senators voted overwhelmingly in favor of the measure.

But last week, more than two dozen Republicans who voted for the bill in June voted against bringing it forward. They sided with Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who is seeking a vote on an amendment that he says would not reduce spending on veterans but would prevent spending in other non-defense programs from rising later.

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has offered to allow the Senate to vote on the Toomey amendment with 60 votes needed for approval, the same number needed to advance the bill itself.

It’s unclear how the delay will be resolved, though GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell predicted Monday that the bill will pass this week.

Veterans advocacy groups, a key voting bloc in the upcoming midterm elections, are outraged and are increasing political pressure on lawmakers to act. At a news conference in Capitol Hill the day after last week’s procedural vote, speakers used terms like “rogues” and “reproachable” to describe Republican senators who voted against bringing the measure forward last week, but nearly voted for it in June. voted exactly the same bill.

“Veterans are angry and confused about the sudden change of those they thought had their backs,” said Cory Titus of the Military Officers Association of America group.

“You just screwed veterans yesterday,” added Tom Porter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America group. “Now we’re going to hold them accountable.”


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