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Compromise veterans bill passes House, heads back to Senate

Published by David Lerman

(Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)

The House passed a revised version of a sweeping expansion of veterans benefits Wednesday with a tweak designed to fix a constitutional glitch that had briefly derailed the measure.

On a 342-88 vote, the House sent back to the Senate — as an amendment to an unrelated bill — legislation to provide easier access to health care and disability benefits to more than 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to toxic substances while serving overseas.

The benefits bill had already passed in different forms in both chambers. But an obscure tax provision added by the Senate triggered a constitutional concern in the House, where all tax measures must originate.

The revised bill drops the Senate-passed tax provision, though House members expressed frustration with the additional time and effort needed to get the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk.

“Our veterans do not have the time for technicalities. Their lives are literally on the line," Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., said during floor debate.

The bill's core would make servicemembers who contracted any of 23 conditions — from brain cancer to hypertension — after being deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zones automatically eligible for VA health care and disability benefits. That's a change from current law, which requires veterans to prove their illnesses were a direct result of their deployments rather than some other factor.

When the House first approved the bill in March on a 256-174 vote, it got just 34 GOP votes. Many more Republicans — 123 in all — backed the revised measure Wednesday, citing changes made by the Senate, which passed its version on an 84-14 vote last month.

“This is a better bill than the one that the House passed in March,” said Rep. Mike Bost of Illinois, the top Republican on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, who was absent for the March vote but said at the time he would have voted against it. “It reflects bipartisan negotiations and input from VA, who is ultimately responsible for putting this into practice.”

Blue slip blues After the Senate in June passed the expansion — which the Congressional Budget Office estimated as costing nearly $280 billion over a decade — House lawmakers discovered an issue that would hold up final passage for weeks....

Read full article on Roll Call.


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