The Senate voted to pass legislation to provide billions of dollars in aid to veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals from burn pits during their military service. Despite supporting the bill two months ago, Republicans blocked the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act last week, claiming Democrats were attempting to "sneak in" an additional $400 billion in mandatory spending.
After the bill was defeated, veterans, led by comedian turned activist Jon Stewart, protested outside of the U.S. Capitol, demanding passage of the PACT Act.
Veterans have been complaining that the Department of Veteran Affairs has been denying medical claims because they cannot definitively link their ailments to the burn pits.
During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military would use burn pits to dispose of medical waste, raw sewage, and trash. An estimated 3.5 million troops were exposed to toxic fumes from the burn pits, and many have developed a range of ailments, such as respiratory issues and cancer.
The new legislation says that soldiers will no longer have to prove their medical issues were related to the burn pits. The bill also provides coverage for Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.
"Our veterans across America can breathe a sigh of relief," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. "The treatment that they deserve and have been denied by the VA because of all kinds of legal barriers and presumptions will now be gone."