Procedural issues brought to a close a planned vote this week to finalize legislation that would dramatically expand benefits for veterans exposed to toxic exposure from their time on duty, but congressional leaders insist the issues be resolved and legislated can be approved in the coming weeks.
House and Senate leaders had hoped to send the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (or PACT Act) to President Joe Biden’s desk for final signing by July 4, after the Senate approved the measure with a bipartisan 84th vote -14-vote had advanced week earlier.
The measure would cost nearly $280 billion over the next 10 years and bring new health and disability benefits to up to one in five veterans living in America today.
It represents the culmination of years of work by advocates who have argued that current regulations prevent many victims of injuries from on-duty toxins – particularly smoke from fire pits used for waste disposal in Iraq and Afghanistan – from receiving treatment that they deserve .
The House of Representatives approved the measure in March. In response to Republican complaints about the cost of the new benefits and the potential increase in workload the measure would impose on the Department of Veterans Affairs staff, Senate leaders amended the bill to add phased implementation rules and more claims-processing staff .
But those changes violated rules that require new revenue requirements to start in the House of Representatives, not the Senate. A planned House vote to complete the measure on Wednesday was postponed, and chamber leaders scramble to make corrections to the measure before lawmakers began their two-week break on Friday.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., tried to push through a Senate fix late Thursday night, but the offer was blocked by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., one of the 14 senators reject the measure last week.
Tester called that a disappointment.
“There is a [technical] problem and we have to fix it,” he said. “But during our debates, we shouldn’t deny veterans health care, and that’s exactly what it is [Toomey] do today.”
Congress leaders stressed that the procedural problems are not fatal to the future of the PACT Act, but represent a temporary delay.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said he still intends to get a House vote on the measure “once the Senate fixes this procedural speedbump,” and the measure is likely come into force in mid-July.
“Leadership in the House and Senate is not shy about passing the PACT bill,” he said in a statement. “This comprehensive package, aimed at toxically exposed veterans, has been my top legislative priority and I will continue to be relentless in bringing it to President Biden’s desk.”
House voting might be easier next time than the previous one. In March, the measure passed largely along party lines as Republicans raised concerns about perceived shortcomings of the measure. After the Senate revisions, Mike Bost, R-Ill., senior member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said he would support the bill if it came up a second time.
Still, the complications sparked frustration and anger from some advocates who have campaigned for faster action for years.
Comedian Jon Stewart, who has led numerous rallies around Capitol Hill in support of the PACT bill over the last year, took to Twitter on Thursday to describe the Senate’s recent delays as “cynical nonsense delaying health care for veterans.”
Both chambers return from recess on July 11. Legislators will then likely need several days to work out the procedural corrections and carry out the corresponding votes.
Biden has already indicated he will put the measure into effect once it is finalized by Congress.
https://nypost.com/2022/06/24/major-veterans-toxic-exposure-legislation-delayed-again-but-lawmakers-insist-its-not-defeat/ Legislation on large veteran toxic exposures has been delayed again, but lawmakers insist it’s not a defeat