After a week-long uproar among veterans and their supporters nationwide, the PACT Act to expand health care benefits for those who served our country and were exposed to deadly toxins was finally passed in the Senate Tuesday night.
The passage came days after veterans joined Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand outside VA NY Harbor Healthcare System to decry Republican-led obstruction to the bill, which had failed to pass last week.
Vets embraced celebrity comic Jon Stewart Tuesday in Washington D.C after news of the passage came in. Stewart led an uproar against the reversal, which Republicans claimed stemmed from an argument over which portion of the federal budget would pay for the $280 billion worth of funds for veteran health programs.
Now, with that issue resolved less than a week later, both veterans and politicians are celebrating.
“That’s what counts, for the millions of veterans who need this, and I just want to thank you,” Schumer told veterans in the nation’s capital while recalling a lesson he learned from his late father. “He taught me two things: One, always help people who need help. And two, if you do the right thing and you don’t give up, you will succeed, and God will reward you. You did the right thing, you never gave up, and now we are going to win this fight because of you.”
A tearful Gillibrand described the struggle that veterans and their families who have struggled to get healthcare as a “heavy weight” that the PACT Act seeks to lift off their shoulders.
“All the families here have been carrying this weight. It’s been very hard on them to have their country not have their back,” Gillibrand said. “This is a day to celebrate because it’s a day that congress actually worked, and it worked for the people who deserve it the most — the men and women who put their lives on the line for this country time and time again, never ever complaining and never giving up.”
John Feal, a 9/11 first responder and advocate for his colleagues who toiled at Ground Zero and suffered illnesses years later, also expressed pride in the moment — yet furiously lamented the politics that delayed the PACT Act’s passage.
“Back on June 16, we passed the bill 84-14. Today, we passed the bill 86 to 11. What the f–k happened for the last six weeks that we’re here again today? That these people had to sleep outside in the rain, in the heat?” Feal said. “The GOP Senate made these people suffer more than they had to suffer. … What have we become when we lack empathy? What have we become when we don’t care about another human being if they suffer, especially veterans?”
What this means for New York Veterans
Schumer declared that the bill is on the way to the president’s desk to be signed, so what does it mean for New York Veterans suffering health issues?
The PACT Act is designed to expand health care benefits for veterans exposed to wartime toxins, including Vietnam’s Agent Orange – a herbicide mixture – and Afghanistan and Iraq’s burn pits, in which all manner of objects and waste containing heavy metals and carcinogens were set ablaze. Many of the soldiers in the vicinity of the burn pits have suffered severe illnesses such as cancer.
Currently, veterans are forced to undergo a lengthy process in order to prove that their illness stemmed from their time in service. However, the PACT Act enables veterans to get VA coverage without having to jump through hoops.
The legislation is being touted as the largest expansion of care in VA history, and was expected to cost $280 billion over ten years and will aid about 3.5 million individuals.
President Joe Biden is also a supporter of the bill, believing that his late son’s brain tumor came as a result of the burn pits. The president released a statement over Twitter celebrating the passage.
“We’ll never be able to repay the debt we owe to those who have worn the uniform, but today, Congress delivered on a promise to our veterans and their families. The PACT Act will be the biggest expansion of VA health care in decades. We should all take pride in this moment,” the president wrote.
We’ll never be able to repay the debt we owe to those who have worn the uniform, but today, Congress delivered on a promise to our veterans and their families.
The PACT Act will be the biggest expansion of VA health care in decades. We should all take pride in this moment. pic.twitter.com/l72HcsNJLw
— President Biden (@POTUS) August 3, 2022