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