UPDATED, with statement from Rep. Bost’s office: In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass legislation to extend comprehensive health benefits to veterans who suffered toxic exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, Jon Stewart, who has long championed the bill, warned of efforts to water it down.
Appearing at a Capitol Hill press conference including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), Stewart called out Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL), who he said is offering an insufficient alternative. Takano chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee and Bost is its top ranking Republican.
Stewart said, “Make no mistake. We are Congress. This is a place where what is necessary becomes what they can get away with, and we can’t allow that to happen in this final moment of their fight.
“They are going to go on the floor tomorrow and there is going to be an amendment. And that amendment from ranking member Bost is going to say, ‘Hey, all these veteran service organizations and all these active military members have come together with Chairman Takano and Speaker Pelosi and the president of the United States, and they have designed a bill that will comprehensively address the urgent need in the veterans community. And ranking member Bost’s amendment s going to say, ‘Damn, that is good work, so why don’t we just switch that out, for five more years of healthcare. we good? … F— that. Not happening. They get what they deserve — comprehensive bill that addresses the urgent need in their community.”
A spokeswoman for Bost said, “Ranking Member Bost completely disagrees with Mr. Stewart’s false characterization of his efforts but appreciates, and shares, his passion for the men and women who have served.”
The bill, the Honoring Our PACT Act, will be debated on Wednesday and is expected to come to the floor on Thursday. The legislation makes veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals, such as those released from “burn pits,” eligible for VA medical care. Takano said that it will impact more than 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to the toxic fumes, establishing a link between their service and 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers.
Stewart warned that even if it passed, it could still stall out in the Senate.
“They are excellent at killing things that are necessary, and we cannot allow it to happen. and you cannot allow this feeling of unity and hope and finally being seen to dissipate,” Stewart said.
The military has used burn pits to incinerate waste, hazardous material and jet fuel, but troops that have breathed the toxic fumes have reported a range of illnesses. In his speech, Biden noted that “many of the world’s fittest and best trained warriors in the world” are “never the same: headaches, numbness, dizziness, a cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin.”
At that moment in his speech, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) heckled the president, shouting, “You put them in. Thirteen of them.” She then was booed.
Biden went on to say that the brain cancer that killed his son, Beau, may have been linked to his exposure to burn pits when he served in Iraq and Kosovo. “I’m committed to find out everything we can,” Biden said.