HELENA — The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, legislation aimed at addressing the health care needs of toxic-exposed veterans, passed the Senate Tuesday after being blocked last week by Republican senators.
The legislation passed the vote Tuesday by a margin of 86 to 11 and is now headed to the desk of President Biden for his signature. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., both voted in favor of the final passage Tuesday evening and praised the outcome.
“For hundreds of thousands of veterans of all generations, for our all-volunteer military, this bill finally puts us on a path to finally paying the cost of war,” said Tester, who also serves as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This bill was a long time coming to right the wrongs to our toxic-exposed veterans—and it’s the bill our veterans and their families deserve, are counting on, and cannot wait any longer for. Our men and women in uniform held up their end of the bargain, and I’m proud we’re finally holding up ours.”
THE PACT ACT IS PASSED! We're finally getting the job done and delivering America's veterans their hard-earned care and benefits. They held up their end of the bargain, and I'm damn proud we're holding up ours.— Senator Jon Tester (@SenatorTester) August 2, 2022
Next stop: The President's desk for his signature.
“Today, I was glad to vote for the ‘PACT Act’ to deliver disability and health benefits earned by Montana veterans suffering from toxic exposure that occurred during their military service,” Daines said. “In recent days, I worked to ensure the VA is held accountable for meeting the needs of these veterans while also preventing big spenders in Washington from funding unrelated programs. While I’m disappointed these improvements did not pass, the ‘PACT Act’ passed with my full support. I look forward to it becoming law in the very near future.”
Last week, the PACT Act was held up on a procedural cloture vote. On the floor, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., claimed it would create $400 billion in unrelated spending. Tester refuted that claim saying mandatory funding was needed rather than discretionary funding to ensure the program could address future toxic exposure needs by the VA. Daines voted against the cloture vote last week along with a group of other Republican senators.
The legislation initially passed the Senate in June by a vote of 84 to 14 where it went to the House for approval of the Senate’s amendments. House approval was delayed due to a dispute over a provision since a tax provision cannot originate in the Senate. A slightly altered bill was approved by the House and sent to the Senate.
Blocking of the legislation last week also came after Democratic leaders announced plans for a comprehensive budget reconciliation measure that would add climate and tax provisions. Republican leaders said previously their caucus would oppose such measures and some Democrats have claimed it was why the PACT Act was blocked.
After negotiations this week between Democrats and the Republican caucus, three amendments were agreed to be heard. One from Sen. Rand Paul, R-K.Y., Sen. Marsha Blackburn,R-Tenn., and Sen. Toomey. All three failed to get the 60 votes in order to pass.
Toomey’s amendment would have changed a large portion of the funding from mandatory to discretionary. Daines voted in favor of the amendment while Tester voted against it.
The PACT Act aims to expand coverage for post-9/11 combat veterans exposed to burn pits, expand the list of countries for presumptive Agent Orange exposure and increase funding for the VA to research toxic exposure.
In recent years, the VA has recognized that nearly 3.5 million post-9/11 veterans suffered prolonged and pervasive exposure to burn pits and other toxic chemicals they could not avoid. Burn pits were how the military disposed of waste — including plastics — and have been linked to cancer, respiratory illnesses and other diseases.
According to data from the VA, approximately 66,000 Montana veterans could have been exposed to toxic substances during their service.