Senate passes vets health bill after GOP caves
Senate passes vets health bill after GOP caves, On Tuesday, the Senate voted to approve a bill that would extend potentially lifesaving health care benefits to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who were exposed to toxic burn pits.
After Republicans agreed to lift their blockade of the popular bill, senators voted 86-11, caving in to pressure from more than 60 veterans groups and comedian Jon Stewart, who had railed against Republicans for days outside the Capitol. As a result, Senate Republicans agreed to lift their blockade of the popular bill.
The Senate gallery provided a vantage point for many of the veterans who had set up camp on the Senate steps, where they had been subjected to the elements, including heat, humidity, and thunderstorms. The bill has successfully passed through the House of Representatives and is on its way to Vice President Joe Biden to be signed into law.
Jen Burch, 35, a retired Air Force staff sergeant who suffers from several ailments she believes were caused by exposure to burn pits and open sewage ponds in Afghanistan said that it is “extremely emotional. [These are] tears of pleasure and relief.”
“Tonight is our night to rejoice, but we still have a lot of work to do to continue advocating and to make sure that the [Department of Veterans Affairs] does their job in putting this law into effect for our veterans,” said the speaker.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough has promised that his department will move promptly to implement the measure once it has been signed by Vice President Joe Biden.
“Once this bill is signed into law by the President, we at VA will implement it quickly and effectively, delivering the care these Veterans need and the benefits they deserve,” McDonough said in a statement. “Once the President signs this bill into law, we at VA will implement it quickly and effectively.”
On Tuesday evening, Vice President Biden applauded the approval of the law and referred to it as a “lifeline” for families who had lost loved ones as a result of hazardous exposure.
According to a statement released by Vice President Joe Biden, “Congress has delivered a clear and bipartisan win for America’s soldiers.” This bill would mean quicker access to health care services and other benefits for the millions of veterans who may have been exposed to dangerous substances. Many people who are ill due to hazardous exposures could benefit from this, and it could mean the difference between living and dying.
After that, he joined Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, in extending gratitude to the veterans who had been advocating for their causes outside of the Capitol. “The care that they have deserved and have required but have been denied because of the VA, because of all sorts of legal impediments and presumptions, will now be gone,” he added. “The VA will no longer be able to prevent them from receiving the treatment that they deserve and need.”
“Veterans who were exposed to the hazardous gases of burn pits will be treated by the VA like they should have been from the very beginning,” continued Schumer. “This is something that should have been done from the beginning.”
Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania was one of the Republicans who had been holding up the bill because he demanded a vote on his amendment to add spending guardrails. These guardrails would ensure that a portion of the massive package that would cost $280 billion over the course of 10 years could not be spent on “completely unrelated programs.” Toomey’s depiction was incorrect, according to the Democrats, who said that the money will be spent only on military personnel and veterans.
“Am I expected to have faith that this Congress, as well as future Congresses, won’t go on a spending binge? Seriously? That is incomprehensible, Toomey remarked before the vote was taken. Why did they make it such that they could go on a shopping spree when they designed this feature?
Toomey had requested that his amendment be brought to the floor with a simple majority threshold of only 50 votes. This was ultimately granted. In the end, he and other Republicans caved into Schumer’s demands that three Republican amendments would get votes with a higher threshold of 60 votes, which effectively ensured that those amendments would be defeated. All fell significantly below that bar.
In June, the Senate had already voted to approve the burn pits bill by a margin of 84 to 14, but when the legislation was brought up for a second time last week, 25 Republicans who had previously voted in favor of the bill changed their minds. Many of these Republicans echoed Toomey’s concerns regarding spending and argued that Democrats did not give them the opportunity to amend the package. However, Democrats and veterans argued that many Republicans were voting against the package as a kind of payback for the big agreement that Democrats had recently crafted on climate change, health care, and taxes.
Over the course of the weekend, several veterans literally slept on the steps of the Capitol building, which made it increasingly impossible for Republicans to maintain their blockade.
Before Tuesday’s settlement was announced, Stewart, who has also battled for financing for 9/11 first responders and their families, told NBC News, “I think they’re frayed in terms of their ability to withstand this.” Stewart has previously fought for funds for 9/11 first responders and their families.
“I believe that what is going on is cruel and unusual punishment, and they need to put an end to this as soon as possible.”