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Toxic burn pits bill for veterans PASSES iSenate after Republicans derailed it last week 

Legislation expanding health care for military veterans exposed to toxic fire pits passed in the Senate Tuesday night by an overwhelming 86 to 11 vote.

All ‘no’ votes on the Honor Our PACT Act were cast by GOP lawmakers, including Mitt Romney of Utah, Thom Tillis of South Carolina and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.

“This bill puts us on the path to finally paying the costs of war,” said Montana Democrat Senator Jon Tester, who led the effort to pass the bill as he celebrated its success.

It comes after 47 Republicans scuttled the bill last week over a last-minute change by Democrats to change funds from “discretionary” to “mandatory.”

GOP lawmakers accused Democrats of creating a “slush fund” with the move.

Comedian-turned-activist Jon Stewart was visibly shaken when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer thanked him for his efforts to lobby for the bill. He and a group of veterans watched the mood unfold.

The amendments by Republican Senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Rand Paul of Kentucky all failed to collect the 60 votes it took to pass.

An amendment by Paul to limit foreign aid to help pay the bill failed by 90 votes to seven.

Another from Toomey, who led the successful Republican opposition to the bill last week, is said to have returned the money to their original “discretionary” category.

Toomey said he would change his vote if his amendment were passed. It failed in a 47 to 48 vote.

Moderate Senator Susan Collins in Maine was the only Republican to join Democrats against Toomey’s measure.

Blackburn’s move, which would have added a privatization element to VA care, was the only one with more votes in favor than against by a margin of 48-47 – though it took 60 votes.

PACT bill to help veterans exposed to poisons in fire pits passed Senate overwhelmingly after being derailed by Republicans last week

PACT bill to help veterans exposed to poisons in fire pits passed Senate overwhelmingly after being derailed by Republicans last week

Toomey and Paul voted against the final bill.

Veterans, their families and other activists like Stewart protested on the steps of the U.S. Capitol for days after an attempt to pass the bill was derailed by the Republican opposition last week.

GOP lawmakers had accused Democrats of adding unrelated spending to the legislation.

The bill now goes to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature, after it passed the House of Representatives in July.

The Commander-in-Chief has repeatedly made it clear how personal the issue of toxic burns is. He blamed exposure to such toxins in Iraq before the death of his son Beau Biden from brain cancer at age 46.

In June, the bill passed by the Senate by an overwhelming 84 to 14 vote, but it was forced back to the floor by a technical error — where it fell five votes below the 60-count threshold.

Fifty-five senators voted in favor of the bill, while 42 Republican senators voted against. Three lawmakers abstained.

Veterans, military relatives and lawyers gather outside the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 2

Veterans, military relatives and lawyers gather outside the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 2

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (New York Democrat), left, and Senator Jon Tester (Montana Democrat), right, cheer with FealGood Foundation Founder John Feal, center, as the two senators meet with veterans ahead of a vote to help veterans with toxic exposure diseases

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (New York Democrat), left, and Senator Jon Tester (Montana Democrat), right, cheer with FealGood Foundation Founder John Feal, center, as the two senators meet with veterans ahead of a vote to help veterans with toxic exposure diseases

Activist and entertainer Jon Stewart hugs fellow attorney Susan Zeier of Sandusky, Ohio, just after Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., assured veterans and military relatives that the Senate will vote on the PACT bill Tuesday

Activist and entertainer Jon Stewart hugs fellow attorney Susan Zeier of Sandusky, Ohio, just after Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., assured veterans and military relatives that the Senate will vote on the PACT bill Tuesday

Toomey led the GOP opposition to the bill, he told CNN’s State of the Union, because of “a $400 billion unrelated spending that has nothing to do with veterans and will not be in the veteran space.”

The bill’s text had moved spending from the “discretionary” category to “mandatory,” while Toomey’s amendment would reverse that.

Stewart had argued on ABC News’ This Week that Toomey’s amendment would in reality limit the funds, forcing sick veterans to return to the Capitol after a certain amount of time to ask for the money to be renewed.

The PACT bill will remove the burden of proof from veterans suffering from a range of illnesses from asthma to terminal cancers after being exposed to toxins in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It would expand VA health care benefits for about 3.5 million veterans, according to the Pentagon.

The measures add 23 respiratory diseases and cancers related to toxic burns into the law, paving the way for veterans who suffer from them to get care.

All veterans would also receive toxic exposure studies at VA hospital appointments.

Master Sgt.  Darryl Sterling, 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron equipment manager, throws unusable uniform items into a fire pit, March 10

Master Sgt. Darryl Sterling, 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron equipment manager, throws unusable uniform items into a fire pit, March 10

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