Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
A bipartisan breakthrough in Congress is inspiring confidence that the latest generation of military veterans will get the medical care they need and deserve.
Not all threats faced by those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan came at the hands of the enemy. One health hazard was environmental: "burn pits." These were vast piles of refuse — human and medical waste, chemicals, rubber, metals, plastics, paint, jet fuel — set afire near military installations.
The conflagrations could cover nearly 10 acres and continued to burn around the clock. Those who lived and worked nearby have long worried about the toxins they may have breathed.
Cancer, respiratory diseases and other conditions that developed months or years later on the home front have deepened concerns. One high-profile example: Amie Muller, a Minnesota Air National Guard veteran who died in 2017. Her legacy includes a nonprofit foundation that sounded the alarm about burn pits and helped other sickened veterans.
The conundrum is that the science to establish a conclusive link to environmental exposures can take years. But veterans exposed to burn pits may need medical care and benefits now. Tragically, the Veterans Affairs system rejected 78% of burn pit claims, according to Stars and Stripes.
The new deal brokered by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., will help ensure military men and women get the help they need. The two senators lead the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
A May 18 news release touted the deal as "comprehensive relief." Critically, it will add "23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA's list of service presumptions," as well as set up a framework to add more in the future as necessary. The deal also will aid an older generation of veterans — those exposed to Agent Orange, a defoliant containing dioxin that was used in the Vietnam War.
A respected veterans service organization, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), applauded the deal and legislation. "The PACT Act addresses a glaring gap in the needs of generations of current and future veterans." The Star Tribune Editorial Board has also previously called for its passage.
The full Senate still needs to pass the bill. The House, which already passed a version, will need to vote on it again. This important veterans health improvement merits the support of Minnesota's full congressional delegation and swift passage soon after the Memorial Day break.