US veterans' 'burn pit bill' heads to Biden's desk

Comedian and activist Jon Stewart has led protests outside Capitol Hill urging legislation to pass

Comedian Jon Stewart protests with veterans, their family members and advocates against Senate Republicans blocking the 'burn pit' bill, on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP
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Legislation giving US veterans exposed to toxic burn pits health care and other benefits passed 86-11 in the Senate on Tuesday night, defeating Republican opposition.

There have been days of protests after Republicans last week blocked the bill.

It provides benefits for veterans who were exposed to the burn pits, in which fuel and other waste were incinerated, while on duty overseas.

The pits are linked to illnesses including cancer and respiratory difficulties.

Comedian Jon Stewart led a lobbying campaign with veterans' activists who camped on Capitol Hill over the weekend. He tweeted a fingers-crossed emoji and a praying hands emoji just before the vote.

US President Joe Biden last weekend held a FaceTime meeting with veterans' families.

In a tweet he said his positive Covid-19 test prevented him from visiting them in person, so he ordered them pizza instead.

Mr Biden had called for the bill's passage during his State of the Union address this year. The bill, known as the Pact Act, would provide health care to 3.5 million veterans.

As well as veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Pact Act would also expand coverage for illnesses linked to Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War.

Forty-one Republican senators voted against the bill last week shortly after Joe Manchin, a Democratic US senator, announced a spending deal with Mr Schumer that the Republicans were against.

Twenty-five of those Republicans had supported a previous, nearly identical version of that bill last month.

“I'm used to the lies, I'm used to the hypocrisy, I'm used to the cowardice, I'm used to all of it, but I am not used to the cruelty,” Stewart said last week.

Republicans objected on a technical issue in the bill and said it would create another $400 billion in discretionary spending unrelated to veterans

The bill “is going to free up $400bn underneath the spending caps that discretionary spending is subject to", Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, told Bloomberg Television.

“It allows for a spending spree on unrelated things.”

Updated: August 03, 2022, 12:06 AM