On August 2nd, Montana Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines voted along with 84 other senators to pass bipartisan legislation to expand VA medical care for US military veterans who had been exposed to "burn pits" while serving overseas in combat zones.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
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Senator Tester, who serves as the Chairman of the Senate's Veteran's Affairs Committee, said that

This is a bill that will work for this country, that will work for the taxpayers of this country and it will work, most importantly, for the veterans and their families.

Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
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Montana's Senator Steve Daines also voted to pass the PACT Act, but has expressed concerns over the VA being held accountable to provide appropriate care as well as spending measures in the bill.

What Are Burn Pits, And What Do They Do?

Burn pits are commonly used as a tool to dispose of waste in combat areas. Military servicemembers gather trash, rubble, unexploded ordnance, chemicals and garbage into a large pit and set it on fire. The practice, while expeditious in cleaning up combat zones, poses significant risks since servicemembers inhale fumes from the infernos, leading to various respiratory diseases, heart related issues and cancers.

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Known as the PACT Act, the legislation is the largest expansion of VA benefits since 1991, when the Agent Orange Act allowed Vietnam-era veterans to receive additional care after being exposed to Agent Orange, a pesticide which has been proven to cause serious illnesses including Hodgkin's disease and cancers of the bladder, skin, prostate, and lymph nodes.

Credit: Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images
Credit: Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images
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A Desert Storm veteran watches Sen. Tester's press conference as he announces the passing of the bill. He was joined by demonstrators from the Wounded Warrior Project, Burn Pit 360 and the American Legion

Veterans who were deployed to the Middle East for the last 32 years (including Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan) are eligible to receive treatment from the Veteran's Administration and VA hospitals for their illnesses caused by exposure to burn pits.

Senator Tester, himself a Montana native, voted to pass the bill not only for the 86,000+ veterans who live in Montana, but the millions of veterans nationwide who deserve the utmost respect, care and benefits of having served our country valiantly. It's estimated that over 3.5 million veterans were exposed to burn pits while serving in the Middle East.

Up until August 2nd, veterans who felt they were suffering from burn pit-related illnesses could sign up for the VA Burn Pit Registry which provided information about potential diseases but provided no further treatment from the VA.

The PACT Act has already passed in the House of Representatives, and is expected to be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

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