Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Lee and Romney remain no votes as Senate finally passes veteran’s burn pit health care bill

AP — U.S. Capitol Building, Washington D.C., Congress Veterans Burn Pits, Aug. 2, 2022
Mariam Zuhaib
A sign is displayed as veterans, military family members and advocates, rally outside the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in support of a bill that enhances health care and disability benefits for millions of veterans exposed to the toxic burn pits.

The U.S. Senate passed a bill to expand benefits to veterans exposed to toxic chemicals in Iraq and Afghanistan without the support of Utah’s senators.

The PACT Act broadens health care access for veterans who fell ill after exposure to toxic “burn pits,” which were commonly used by the military to dispose of waste during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Tuesday’s 86-11 vote on the bill comes less than a week after the Senate blocked it 55-42. Sixty votes are needed to defeat a filibuster.

Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney joined the minority in voting no on the bill. They wanted to address what some Republicans said was the possibility of $400 billion in unrelated spending. Both senators also cast ‘no’ votes the last two times the bill came up previously.

They did vote for a version that would address their concerns, but it did not meet the 60-vote threshold to pass.

Lee said an amendment was needed in order to prevent the misuse of taxpayer money, while Romney said the $667 billion price tag was too high. Romney added he would support more targeted legislation that focuses on disability eligibility requirements that are based on “scientific evidence and research.”

Although disappointed that Utah’s senators did not join the majority, co-chair of the Utah Veterans Democratic Caucus Drew Howells is grateful the bill ultimately passed and can start helping thousands of Utah veterans.

“I have friends, a sergeant major who is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he is going to get the care and the access he needs,” he said. “Veterans that have cancer, they’re now gonna get the care they need. This is so amazing. It’s a relief.”

Howells said this bill addresses an urgent need in the veteran community.

“Utah has a long history of our citizens stepping up to answer the call of service,” he said. “As such, Utah also has a large population of veterans. Many of them have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and other locations. They suffer now from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, auto-immune diseases, cancers and tumors of the throat and lungs. Now, finally, they’re going to be able to get the care they need.”

The bill now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.