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Maine senators back bill to support vets exposed to burn pits

The bill will provide veterans who suffer from exposure to burn pits while in the military with access to the healthcare they need through the VA.

MAINE, USA — The U.S. Senate passed a bill Thursday that both Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, backed. The result passed by a whopping vote of 84-14, a news release issued by King's office says. 

The bipartisan legislation, dubbed the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, was passed to allow veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits while serving in the military overseas to have access to effective healthcare through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the news release says.

Not only will this new bill benefit veterans who were exposed overseas in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam, but also those who were exposed during the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City.

Veterans have fought for a bill like this to be passed for years, especially those who account Agent Orange to their health issues, a herbicide mixture containing dioxin used by the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

"The Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese have been affected by dioxin, including at least 150,000 children born with serious birth defects," the Aspen Institute reports.

Many different carcinomas have been found in veterans who have been exposed to burn pits, as well as other exposure-related illnesses such as asthma, sinusitis, and rhinitis, according to the VA.

Following the passing of the bill is an estimated increase in federal spending -- nearly $283 billion over the next 10 years. However, this does not include tax increases or offsetting spending cuts in order to pay for the new healthcare benefits.

Sen. King, who is a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, reflected on the lack of benefits our veterans have received from our country after serving up until now.

“Supporting our veterans after their active service is among America’s most solemn commitments, but unfortunately, it’s one we have not always met,” King said in the news release. “Thousands of America’s men and women in uniform have been exposed to toxic substances in the line of duty, contributing to lifelong health issues that our country has left them to battle alone. The PACT Act will bring us closer to meeting this moral obligation by providing the benefits, support, and healthcare these veterans deserve."

“The brave men and women who have served in our military put themselves in harm’s way, and it is our responsibility to provide them with the highest quality health care for any illnesses linked to their military service,” Sen. Collins said in a news release issued by her office. “For far too long, veterans exposed to toxic substances such as Agent Orange and burn pits during their deployments have not received the recognition or resources they needed. This comprehensive legislation puts us on the path to fulfilling the enormous debt we owe these veterans by expanding critical research on toxic exposure and providing relief to toxic-exposed veterans who may be experiencing serious illnesses and debilitating symptoms.”

The outlook for this bill to be signed by President Joe Biden is a positive one. In a news release issued by the White House Press Office, Biden says encourages Congress to pass the bill so he can sign it immediately.

"As part of the Unity Agenda that I laid out in my State of the Union address, I called on Congress to make sure that veterans and their families and caregivers impacted by toxic exposures finally get the benefits and comprehensive health care they earned and deserve," President Biden said in the news release.

"Above all, this legislation makes good on our sacred obligation to care for veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors," Biden said in the news release. "I want to thank Chair Tester and Ranking Member Moran for their remarkable work to pass the PACT Act, and I urge the House to swiftly pass this bill so I can sign it into law right away."

This PACT ultimately will extend VA's healthcare to "post-9/11 combat veterans, add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA's list of service presumptions, expand presumptions to Agent Orange exposure, strengthen federal research on toxic exposure," and more, according to the news release.

The news release also states that the bill will include Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, American Samoa, Guam, and Johnston Atoll as exposure locations from Agent Orange.

For a fuller layout of the bill, see the attached PDF below.

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