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A bill supporting veterans exposed to toxic burn pits is close to being passed

Shaylee Ragar
Montana Public Radio/File photo
Montana Sens. Steve Dianes and Jon Tester join U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough for a roundtable discussion at Fort Harrison on April 7, 2021.

A bill expanding benefits to millions of military veterans exposed to toxins is now one step away from President Joe Biden’s desk.

This Thursday, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation to increase disability benefits and health care services for generations of veterans suffering health problems associated with burn pits.

The military routinely incinerated various forms of waste in open burn pits. Veterans who inhaled the fumes and fell ill had to prove the burning was responsible; a difficult burden of proof to meet.

Two-thirds of Montana vets were likely exposed to toxic burn pit pollution during their service, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Democratic senator and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Jon Tester pushed for the bill, which is estimated to cost several hundred billion dollars over the next decade.

“This bill is about righting a wrong that has been ignored for just way too damn long,” Tester said Thursday.

The Senate passed the measure Thursday on an 84-14 vote. Republican Sen. Steve Daines also supported the bill and says he looks forward to seeing it passed into law, although he was one of two senators who did not cast a vote. Daines was in Montana meeting with the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency amid historic flooding in the state.

Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale voted against the House version of the bill in March.

It now goes back to the U.S. House of Representatives for a final vote which it’s expected to pass. If that happens, President Biden is anticipated to swiftly sign the bill into law.
Copyright 2022 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.