The Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act passed by a vote of 256-174 on Thursday, with 34 Republicans joining all House Democrats in voting for it. It now faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
President Biden and activists including Jon Stewart had urged Congress to pass the legislation, which was introduced by Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, last summer.
The measure would boost health care services and disability benefits for veterans suffering from exposure to the burn pits that were used in Iraq and Afghanistan to incinerate waste, with troops often using jet fuel as an accelerant. It would streamline the VA’s review process to recognize toxic exposure as a cost of war.
During his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Biden spoke about the soldiers who returned from the battlefield after breathing in toxic smoke.
“They come home, many of the world’s fittest and best-trained warriors in the world, never the same: headaches, numbness, dizziness, a cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin,” Biden said. “One of those soldiers was my son.”
Beau Biden, who served in Iraq, died of brain cancer in 2015.
The president said he doesn’t know for sure if the burn pits his son was exposed to are what caused his brain cancer.
“But I’m committed to finding out everything we can,” Biden said.
An estimated 3.5 million veterans may have been exposed to toxic fumes and carcinogens from burn pits, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“For too long, Congress and the VA have been slow to act on toxic exposure, but today, the House took a bipartisan vote to change that,” Takano said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Senator Tester to pass truly comprehensive legislation through the Senate and send it to the president’s desk. Toxic-exposed veterans do not have time to wait.”