House lawmakers passed several amendments into the annual defense spending bill aimed at helping veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during service. But they also removed a measure that would have expanded benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange who have bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson's.
House lawmakers voted on packages of hundreds of amendments proposed for the National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass omnibus annual bill that sets the budget, and some policy, for the Defense Department. Since the bill is one of those all but guaranteed to pass in recent years, it's prime real estate for major military and veterans legislation, including on toxic exposure.
Veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during service got several nods in the bill, while veterans exposed to Agent Orange were nixed.
A bipartisan measure introduced by Rep. Josh Harder, D-California, that would have forced VA to expand benefits to veterans exposed to Agent Orange who have bladder cancer, hypothyroidism or Parkinson's was cut from a massive list of amendments sent to the House floor Monday.
A spokesman for Harder told Connecting Vets that the amendment was not ruled in order by the House Rules Committee, so it was not included in the package of hundreds of amendments sent to the floor.
Sources with knowledge of negotiations said cost was a leading factor in the decision not to move the House version of the amendment forward, but said advocates hope the Senate version will get the 60 votes necessary when it heads to the floor of that chamber instead. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations.
As lawmakers in both chambers reconcile their separate versions on the massive defense spending bill, that Senate amendment will have to survive long enough to be included in the final joint bill sent to the president later this year.
Sen. Jon Tester, ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, are championing their chamber's version of the amendment, folding Tester's Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act into the massive bill.
Schumer said earlier this month that the measure "will pass" and "we're about to win this fight" which could expand benefits to more than 22,000 veterans.