Democrats in the US Senate ended a Republican blockade on a bill that promotes special health care for veterans of the armed forces. After refusing to pass a restructured version of the legislation, GOP lawmakers ended the stalemate. The bill passed with a tally of 86-11 on Tuesday.
After clearing the legislative pipeline, the bill now travels to the White House and awaits US President Joe Biden’s signature. He has said the bill “makes good on our sacred obligation” to care for veterans and their families.
The Senate had also approved the legislation back in June, but the legislation required a do-over for a technical fix. That process derailed when Republicans made a late attempt to change another aspect of the bill last week and blocked it from advancing.
The abrupt delay outraged veterans groups and advocates, including comedian Jon Stewart. It also placed GOP senators in the uncomfortable position of delaying the top legislative priority of service organisations this session of Congress.
A group of veterans and their families have been camping out at the Capitol since that vote. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he had good news for them when he announced the final vote for Tuesday evening.
“Veterans who were exposed to the toxic fumes of burn pits will be treated by the VA (Department of Veteran Affairs) like they should have been from the beginning,” the top Democrat said.
The legislation directs the Department of Veteran Affairs to presume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were related to burn pit exposure, allowing veterans to obtain disability payments to compensate for their injury without having to prove the illness was a result of their service.
According to the US Department of Defense, about 70% of disability claims related to burn pit exposure have been denied by the Veteran Affairs department due to insufficient evidence.