The leaders in the U.S. House and Senate had hoped to send the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (or PACT Act) to President Joe Biden’s desk for final signature by the Fourth of July, after the Senate advanced the measure by a bipartisan 84-14. The measure would cost almost $280 billion over the next 10 years and provide new medical and disability benefits for as many as one in every five veterans living in America today.
Military Times’ recent article entitled “Major veterans toxic exposure legislation delayed again, but lawmakers insist it’s not defeat” explains that vets who served in Afghanistan, the first Gulf War, Vietnam and numerous other overseas locations could see new benefits under the plan. The bill would help many vets who are victims of on-duty toxic exposure injuries — in particular, smoke from burn pits used to dispose of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The House passed the bill in March, but Senate leaders amended the bill to add phased-in implementation rules and more staff to help process claims in response to Republican concerns. However, the changes ran into trouble with rules that require new revenue requirements to start in the House, not in the Senate. A planned House vote to finalize the measure was postponed, and chamber leaders scrambled to make corrections to the measure before lawmakers began their two-week recess.
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) tried to push through a fix on the Senate floor late Thursday night, but the bid was blocked by Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), one of the 14 senators to oppose the measure last week. Tester called that a disappointment.
“There is a [technical] issue and we have to fix it,” he said. “But in the process of our debates, we shouldn’t be denying health care to veterans, which is exactly what [Toomey] is doing today.”
However, the procedural issues aren’t fatal for the future of the PACT Act, but instead represent a temporary delay.
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said he still wants to get a House vote on the measure “once the Senate resolves this procedural speedbump.”
“House and Senate leadership are not shying away from passing the PACT Act,” he said in a statement. “This comprehensive package addressing toxic exposed veterans has been my number one legislative priority and I will continue to be unrelenting in getting it to President Biden’s desk.”
President Biden has already indicated he will sign the measure into law when it is finalized by Congress.
Reference: Military Times (June 24, 2022) “Major veterans toxic exposure legislation delayed again, but lawmakers insist it’s not defeat”