An issue close to the heart of U.S. Senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand is moving forward.

The Senate has approved a sweeping expansion of health care and disability benefits for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in response to concerns about their exposure to toxic burn pits.

Photo: Bob Joseph/WNBF News
Photo: Bob Joseph/WNBF News

Passage of the bill Thursday caps years of advocacy work by veterans groups and others like the Democratic Senator who liken burn pits to the Agent Orange herbicide that Vietnam-era veterans were exposed to.

According to past news releases from Gillibrand’s office:  "the Senator first introduced the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act in September 2020, alongside a bicameral group that included Representative Raul Ruiz (D-CA), comedian Jon Stewart, activist John Feal, and a strong coalition of veterans service organizations. The group introduced an updated, bipartisan version in the spring of 2021 together with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). In March 2022, the House of Representatives passed the Honoring Our PACT Act, an effort led by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano and Gillibrand’s House co-lead, Congressman Raul Ruiz. The War Fighters bill was included in the Honoring Our PACT Act as the centerpiece of the presumptive coverage section."

A procedural vote on the proposal passed 86 to 12 June 7 but a scheduled vote June 9 was delayed for several days.

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The House is expected to approve the Senate measure, sending it to President Joe Biden, who has said he'd sign comprehensive legislation immediately.

The military routinely used open burn pits set ablaze with jet fuel to dispose of tires, batteries and medical waste.

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