EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — Military veterans and their families have spent decades battling to have more care for those suffering from toxic exposure, and now, veterans are celebrating as the Pact Act has passed the Senate.

“There’s not a word on the page of any of this that would have happened without veterans and their families fighting every step of the way,” U.S. Senator Michael Bennet said.

The bill will improve Veteran Affairs (VA) health care eligibility for more than 3.5 million veterans affected by toxic exposure.

Commander John Wells is a retired U.S. Navy Officer that is advocating for 30 veteran organizations across the country through Military Veterans Advocacy.

“We’ve been pushing with one voice to get this done, and we’ll be back next year asking for more,” Wells said.

Senate Republicans unexpectedly blocked the bill, but other Senate voices said otherwise.

“We have to get this passed,” Senator Bennet demanded.

SFC Heath Robinson, Honoring Our Pact Act

Republicans have said they are not opposed to the original substance of the bill, but rather a “budgetary gimmick” that would designate $400 billion spent by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs as mandatory spending. This spending would not be subject to annual appropriations process like discretionary spending.

“The Senate put politics aside and passed the Pact Act,” Senator Bennet explained and said this bill is going to save lives. “It will allow veterans that are diagnosed with things like emphysema, asthma, and brain cancer due to toxic exposure during their time in service, to immediately qualify for disability benefits through the VA.”

Along with expanding VA care to 23 toxic exposure and burn pit related conditions, the Pact Act creates framework for research into agent orange exposure.

The bill now heads to President Biden’s desk, who has already said he plans to sign it.