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2 senators reach deal on help for veterans exposed to toxic burning pits

2 senators reach deal on help for veterans exposed to toxic burning pits
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., right, and Sen, Jon Tester, D-Mont., listen during a confirmation hearing on January 27, 2021. The senators announced a deal Wednesday to help veterans who were exposed to toxic dump pits while on service. File Photo by Sarah Silbiger/UPI | License Photo

May 18 (UPI) -- Congress moved closer to addressing concerns over the exposure of military members to toxic burning pits after leaders on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee announced Wednesday a bipartisan deal to help them.

Committee members Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., announced in a joint statement the legislation would expand the VA healthcare eligibility to post-9/11 combat veterans.

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The bill is named after the late Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson, who died in 2020 after being exposed to toxic pits during his military service while deployed to Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio National Guard.

"This bipartisan legislation is the most comprehensive toxic exposure package the Senate has ever delivered to veterans in this country's history," the senators said. "For far too long, our nation's veterans have been living with chronic illnesses as a result of exposures during their time in uniform.

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"Today, we're taking necessary steps to right this wrong with our proposal that'll provide veterans and their families with the healthcare and benefits they have earned and deserve."

Along with the expansion of VA healthcare to 3.5 million eligible veterans, it also creates a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure; adds 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA's list of service presumptions, including hypertension; and expands presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure.

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"In addition to providing historic relief to all generations of toxic-exposed veterans, this legislation will improve claims processing to meet the immediate and future needs of every veteran it serves," the senators said.

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"Together, we will continue working until Congress delivers on its commitment to passing long-lasting solutions and comprehensive reforms for those who served our country."

Veterans were regularly exposed to open-air burn pits at U.S. military bases during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where dangerous materials ranging from electronics and vehicles to human waste were regularly doused in jet fuel and set on fire.

President Joe Biden, who backs the new legislation, has said he believes his late son Beau Biden's brain cancer was linked to his exposure to burn pits while deployed in Iraq in 2008.

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