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American Congress Pass Healthcare Bill After Outcry By Veterans and Jon Stewart

On Tuesday night this week, U.S. Senate Republicans reached an agreement to pass legislation expanding benefits for veterans who are suffering illnesses due to toxic exposures. This was due to the pressure to reverse their decision after they blocked the bill last Wednesday and sparked outrage from the veteran community and comedian-turned-activist Jon Stewart.


 


The bill, called the Honoring our PACT Act (or simply the PACT Act for short), was already approved by the House of Representatives in July. The bill removed the burden on veterans to prove that their toxic exposure resulted in harmful and often lethal illnesses, thus making it easier for sick veterans to access healthcare and treatment needed through a fund set up by the act. Seen as a major bipartisan victory, it easily passed the House in a 342-88 vote and was waiting to be finalised in the Senate before being signed into law by President Joe Biden.


 


On Tuesday night this week, U.S. Senate Republicans reached an agreement to pass legislation expanding benefits for veterans who are suffering illnesses due to toxic exposures. This was due to the pressure to reverse their decision after they blocked the bill last Wednesday and sparked outrage from the veteran community and comedian-turned-activist Jon Stewart.



The bill, called the Honoring our PACT Act (or simply the PACT Act for short), was already approved by the House of Representatives in July. The bill removed the burden on veterans to prove that their toxic exposure resulted in harmful and often lethal illnesses, thus making it easier for sick veterans to access healthcare and treatment needed through a fund set up by the act. Seen as a major bipartisan victory, it easily passed the House in a 342-88 vote and was waiting to be finalised in the Senate before being signed into law by President Joe Biden.


 


The measure was blocked by a vote of 55-42 last Wednesday, with twenty-five Republicans who initially voted to advance the bill in June changing their votes. There was outcry from veterans who had camped outside the Capitol building to pressure senators to change their minds. They were joined by Jon Stewart, who has long been a campaigner for veterans issues in the post-9/11 era. He also did media interviews during the week to raise awareness about the blocking of the bill, including one on MSNBC where he berated Fox News for not having him on until they had to eventually interview him the following day.


 


Democrats argued the GOP was changing its position because it was unhappy with a separate bipartisan deal worked out by Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Joe Manchin on climate change, health care and taxes. Finally, the U.S. Senate passed the PACT Act on Tuesday night in an 86-11 vote. All 11 votes against the bill were Republicans, including Pat Toomey and Mitt Romney.


 


After the bill was finally passed, Stewart said to the  media outside the Capitol, “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this situation where people who have already given so much had to fight so hard to get so little. I hope we learned a lesson.”



The PACT Act will now expand health care costs for roughly 3.5 million of America’s veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits in the post 9/11-era. Throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, all kinds of waste, hazardous material and chemical compounds were incinerated at military sites until about 2010. 86% of post-9/11 veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan say they were exposed to burn pits, according to a 2020 survey by the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The bill also covers health benefits for other veterans exposed to toxic chemicals, such as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, during their military service.


 


Since he stepped down as host of the TV show The Daily Show in 2015, Jon Stewart began his activism in earnest. As a New Yorker, he began as a vocal advocate of firefighters and police personnel who suffered long-term health issues as a result of responding to the 9/11 attacks, making a powerful speech in the Senate in 2019 to encourage the continued funding of healthcare for the now seriously ill first responders and releasing a documentary highlighting their struggle, No Responders Left Behind in 2021.


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