President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act on Wednesday, securing health care benefits for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals from burn pits after 9/11.

Why it matters: This comes after months of twists and turns on Capitol Hill. When the bill was first presented to the Senate in June, it passed with overwhelming support. Due to slight changes to the text of the bill, a second vote was required. During the second vote in July, around two dozen Republicans changed their minds, blocking the bill. Their reversal was perceived as retaliation against Senate Democrats, who a few days earlier had reached a deal to pass the Inflation Reduction Act.

Senate Republicans came under harsh criticism for blocking the bill. Even comedian and former show host John Stewart chimed in, calling the decision cruel and slamming the Republicans who opposed it. 

How a bipartisan bill to help sick veterans became the casualty of partisan wars

In the third vote on Aug. 2, the Senate passed the act 86 to 11, sending the bill to the president’s desk, according to NPR.

What will the PACT Act do? The PACT Act — short for “Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act” — will improve access to health care services under Veterans Affairs for qualifying veterans. According to a fact sheet from the White House, It will:

  • Extend the time period to enroll in VA health care benefits from five to 10 years for post-9/11 veterans.
  • Make proving exposure to chemicals during service easier through an independent evaluation process.
  • Provide automatic care to veterans diagnosed with certain medical conditions and reduce paperwork and testing. 
  • Conduct new studies of veterans’ health trends post 9-11 and of those who served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War.
  • Provide regular health screenings for veterans.
  • Increase health support overall with more clinics and facilities.
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Key quote: “We owe you,” Biden told veterans after signing the bill, per The Associated Press. “You’re the backbone. You’re the steel. You’re the sinew. You’re the very fiber that makes this country what it is.”

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