The Senate on Wednesday quickly and quietly approved a bipartisan bill intended to extend Department of Veterans Affairs health care to more veterans suffering from conditions related to toxic exposure.
The bill was a pared-down version of legislation that had been introduced in both the House and Senate, legislation that would have dramatically expanded benefits for toxic exposure victims but was deemed too pricey by some critics due to projected costs of more than $200 billion. The scaled-down bill was approved by unanimous consent, meaning no one objected when Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., asked on the Senate floor for the bill to pass.
But even though no one objected Wednesday, the bill has garnered criticism from some Democratic lawmakers and advocates who say it does not go far enough to help veterans now suffering from fatal diseases after breathing in toxins during their time in the military.
The bill, which was negotiated by Tester and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and introduced just two weeks ago, would create a one-year enrollment period for VA medical care for post-9/11 combat veterans who served after 1998 and never enrolled. It would also extend the enrollment period for all formerly deployed post-9/11 combat vets from five years to 10.
The bill would also mandate that the VA screen patients for potential exposure to toxic substances during their military services.