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Congress inches closer to final passage of landmark 'Honoring Our PACT' Act

The bill would extend VA benefits to 3.5 million vets suffering from toxic exposure related to burn pits.

WASHINGTON — Congress is on the verge of passing the largest veterans' health care bill in decades.

During America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military disposed of hazardous materials and waste by incinerating them in large burn pits often located near bases. 

The "Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act" is the most comprehensive toxic exposure legislation ever to pass Congress.

Once signed into law, the PACT Act will mean that 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to noxious fumes emanating from burn pits in war, dating back to Operation Desert Storm, will have access to VA care and benefits.

Twenty-three types of cancers and respiratory conditions will now be presumed service-related and would be covered.

The Senate passed the legislation last week by a vote of 84 to 14.

"Honoring and respecting and maintaining our obligation to our veterans is, I think, one of the most important jobs I have," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia).

Warner said, even in a bitterly divided Congress, when it comes to veterans, lawmakers from both sides can come together and do the right thing.

"The fact that it got close to 80 votes showed that at least when it comes to veterans, the vast majority of us, regardless of party, are willing to put our country's money where our mouth is to make sure that we honor those obligations for the people who have given their lives, provided the service to keep our country safe and free," he said.

The measure faces one final vote in the House --where it passed in a 256-174 vote back in March -- before advancing to President Biden's desk.

In a statement, President Joe Biden said, "This legislation makes good on our sacred obligation to care for veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors."

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