Biden signs 'long overdue' PACT Act to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits

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WASHINGTON – Calling the legislation "long overdue," President Joe Biden signed into law Wednesday a bill expanding health care benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.

"This is the most significant law our nation has ever had passed to help millions of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances during their military service," Biden said during a ceremony in the White House East Room.

The bill, named the PACT Act, is designed to provide health care benefits for veterans who were exposed to burn pits during deployment – open-air trash sites that disposed of military waste through burning.

Related: PACT Act is latest effort in years long battle to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits

Related: Biden pivots to burn pits, veterans health care amid mounting crises at home and abroad

The bill cleared its final hurdle in the Senate last week by a vote of 86-11, after years of activism and a brief fight over budget technicalities. Republicans cast all 11 votes against the bill.

Who opposed?: GOP senators vote against PACT act, a bill to help veterans impacted by toxic substances

Jon Stewart joins veterans, military family members and advocates at the Capitol on Aug. 1,  calling for senators to vote for a bill designed to help millions of veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service.
Jon Stewart joins veterans, military family members and advocates at the Capitol on Aug. 1, calling for senators to vote for a bill designed to help millions of veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service.

What does the PACT Act do?

The PACT Act would expand eligibility for veterans exposed to burn pits. Currently, there is no clear evidence directly linking burn pits with respiratory illness and cancer.

As a result, veterans have to advocate for themselves to receive healthcare benefits, but are often turned down because of a lack of evidence linking the two.

While research is currently underway to determine if there is a direct relation, the bill would codify certain respiratory illnesses and cancers as related to burn pits, lifting the burden of proof on veterans to receive benefits.

Trash is burned in a pit at Forward Operating Base Caferetta Nawzad in Helmand province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, on April 28, 2011.
Trash is burned in a pit at Forward Operating Base Caferetta Nawzad in Helmand province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, on April 28, 2011.

What are the specifics of the PACT Act?

The bill would codify 23 different respiratory illnesses and cancers as linked to toxic burn pits.

All veterans also would receive a toxic exposure screening at Veterans Affairs (VA) medical appointments and build 31 new VA health care clinics across 19 states. The bill also would expand training and education on toxic exposure in veterans.

It is estimated to cost $280 billion over the next decade.

How many veterans would the PACT Act impact?

The bill would expand eligibility for benefits for an estimated 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to burn pits, according to the Department of Defense.

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    Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during the America First Agenda Summit, at the Marriott Marquis hotel July 26, 2022 in Washington, DC.

     

     

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Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during the America First Agenda Summit, at the Marriott Marquis hotel  July 26, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during the America First Agenda Summit, at the Marriott Marquis hotel July 26, 2022 in Washington, DC.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is the PACT Act? Biden signs bill to help vets exposed to toxins