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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks at a news conference after the Senate passed a bill designed to help millions of veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

NEWS HEADLINES: Senate votes to pass PACT Act despite GOP concerns

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks at a news conference after the Senate passed a bill designed to help millions of veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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UPDATED 1:31 PM PT – Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The Senate passed the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins, or PACT Act. In an 86 to 11 vote on Tuesday, senators from both sides of the aisle agreed to push the legislation forward after being delayed due to concerns from Republican senators about $400 billion discretionary spending clause placed in the bill.

The legislation will provide over $1.6 trillion in mandatory spending to expand health care benefits to veterans who suffered from illnesses received from burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, it directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to remove their burden of proof clause, which required injured veterans to provide proof that their illnesses came during their service. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-.N.Y.) lauded the legislation on the Senate floor.

“Today we tell our veterans suffering from cancers, lung diseases, other ailments from burn pits: the wait is over for the benefits you deserve,” he stated. “No more pointless delays on getting the healthcare you need. No more jumping through hoops and even hiring lawyers just to get an answer from the VA. And today, if you are a veteran from Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan to everywhere in between and you get sick from burn pit exposure or Agent Orange, you will finally be able to get your earned benefits guaranteed.”

However, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) lambasted the passage of the bill while accusing Democrats of pulling the wool over the eyes of activists by placing an unrelated measure into the act. As part of the compromise reached by Senate lawmakers, an amendment proposed by Toomey, which ensured the additional $400 billion would be used to benefit veterans, was put to a vote before senators voted on the actual legislation.

“That trick is you take a very sympathetic group of Americans,” stated the Republican. “That could be children with rare diseases. That could be victims of crime. It could be veterans who are suffering an illness after having been exposed to toxic chemicals while serving our country. You take this sympathetic group, craft legislation to address their problems and then sneak in something that’s completely unrelated that could never pass on its own and dare anyone to stand up and say a word about that.”

Despite his protests, Toomey’s amendment was defeated by Senate Democrats. The Republican senator expressed his outrage over the decision during a passionate speech on the Senate floor.

“Now the Chairman of the Committee on Veteran Affairs is my friend, Jon Tester,” he remarked. “A guy I know and like. He pretty much essentially acknowledged that, yes, the legislation could be exploited this way, but he said you should have faith, you should have confidence and trust in your colleagues, future Congresses, that we wouldn’t do a thing like that.”

The bill will move to President Joe Biden’s desk in the coming days, where it is expected to be signed into law.

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