Congress Votes to Give Veterans Expanded Medical Coverage for Toxin Exposure

Passed with Bi-Partisan Support Despite Republican Opposition

Congressmember Salud Carbajal | Credit: Office of Congressmember Salud Carbajal

Burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam were used by the U.S. military to get rid of trash, but they invariably contained chemicals, paints, aluminum, plastics, and even munitions, which, when burned, are very toxic. The illnesses experienced by veterans as a result of the toxins were recognized on 8/2 when the Senate passed a bill called the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

Santa Barbara Congressmember Salud Carbajal was among the House co-sponsors of the bill and is himself a veteran of the Marine Reserve during the Gulf War. “I am glad to see that the 25 Senate Republicans who held up this bill…. have stopped playing games with our veterans’ health care and let this bill get to the President’s desk,” Carbajal said in a statement. 

The bill passed with votes from Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress. However,174 House Republicans and 14 Senate Republicans voted against it. President Biden is expected to sign the bill within the next week or so.

The legislation will free veterans from having to pass the high threshold of proving their illnesses are directly linked to exposure. Aside from burn pit exposure, the bill specifies radiation exposure during cleanups at the Enewetak Atoll test site in the Marshall Islands and at Palomares, Spain where an Air Force B-52 carrying hydrogen bombs had caught fire and crashed. It also expands coverage for illnesses connected to Agent Orange used between 1962 and 1975 in Vietnam.

“When our servicemembers embark on their missions to protect the United States, we make a promise that we will take care of them when they come home.” Congressman Carbajal said, “But that promise has not been kept for some veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and substances in the course of their duties. We owe it to toxic-exposed veterans to provide the care and benefits they’ve earned.”

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