The Senate voted 86-11 on Tuesday to pass a bill that expands benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances from burning trash pits.
The measure now heads to President Biden's desk for his signature. Biden has said the bill "makes good on our sacred obligation" to take care of veterans and their families.
Waste — including chemicals and plastics and tires — was routinely burned on U.S. bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. The legislation now requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to presume that some illnesses are linked to vets having been exposed to toxic burn pits while on duty. The New York Times reports that this is the largest expansion of veterans' benefits since 1991's Agent Orange Act, which increased access to care for Vietnam War vets who had been exposed to the herbicide.
Last week, several Republican senators blocked the measure, earning the ire of veteran groups and comedian Jon Stewart, a longtime advocate of expanding health care for veterans and first responders. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said after Tuesday's vote that these organizations and Stewart put a well-deserved spotlight on the bill. "That's who really did it, that's who elevated it," he added.