The Senate has passed legislation to improve veterans’ healthcare and assist victims of burn pits

The Senate has voted overwhelmingly in favor of a program that expanded the healthcare given to veterans and puts a focus on victims who have suffered from the burn pits that were created in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to a report by The Washington Examiner, the legislation passed Thursday was the Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022.

The bill passed months after the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s leaders declared a bipartisan agreement to proceed. The bill will now be sent to the House of Representatives, where it will be debated before being sent to the president.

Years of protests and activism on behalf of nonprofit groups, victims, and allies culminated in the passing of the legislation. The service members affected by burn pits have been compared to those who experienced Agent Orange during the Vietnam War half a century ago.

If passed, the proposal would expand VA healthcare eligibility for post-9/11 combat veterans, 3.5 million of whom were exposed to toxins, establish a framework for future similar services, strengthen federal research on toxic exposure, improve VA resources, and add related conditions to the VA’s list of service presumptions.

Sen. John Tester (D-MT) told reporters that the House could vote on their version of the bill as soon as next week following the 84-14 vote in the Senate.

“This bill will provide expanded access to health care and disability benefits for veterans harmed by certain toxic exposures, whether in the jungles of Vietnam or the mountains of Afghanistan,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

“It will also let the Department of Veterans Affairs move more quickly and comprehensively in the future to determine if illnesses are related to military service, and it will offer critical support to survivors who were harmed by exposures, including from water contamination at Camp LeJeune. Importantly, the bill includes the tools and resources to ensure that the VA can effectively implement it.”

Susan Zeier, the mother-in-law of Sgt. Heath Robinson, the deceased service member whose name is where the bill got its name, spoke about the legislation: “So I’ve been wearing this since about summer of 2018, and today with this bill passing the Senate, I think it’s time to retire it,” she said. “I no longer have to carry that on my shoulders while I’m advocating for all the other veterans out there who are sick and dying. And we aren’t concerned that this bill is going to pass the House because we know it will, so I’m considering that done today.”