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EDITORIAL: President signs bipartisan burn-pit legislation

President Joe Biden is so desperate for political accomplishments heading into the midterms that he’s taken to bragging about falling gasoline prices even though they remain 70 percent higher than when he took office. He also recently touted a static inflation rate despite the fact that the economic gauge has gone up every other month of his presidency.

Mr. Biden won office by vowing to be a unifier, a leader who would reach across the aisle in search of bipartisan compromise. He might improve his political fortunes by highlighting rare examples of how he has kept that vow. One such occasion took place this week when the president signed legislation to provide medical care to veterans who were exposed to so-called “burn pits.”

The bill is the biggest expansion of veterans’ benefits in three decades, according to The New York Times. It sets aside a projected $280 billion over the next 10 years to treat service members who were exposed to toxic dumps in which the military burned chemicals, tires, plastics and other waste on military bases. Some veterans have attributed later ailments — including cancer — to the burn pits.

But without a direct scientific link connecting the burn pits to various illnesses, the Veterans Administration has been prone to deny disability benefits based on such claims. Under the legislation, veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and other war zones “will be granted presumptive status for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers, speeding up the process to receive benefits,” the Military Times reported.

“While we can never fully repay the enormous debt we owe to those who have worn the uniform, today the United States Congress took important action to meet this sacred obligation,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. The legislation, he said, “could be the difference between life and death for many suffering from toxic-related illnesses.”

The bill sailed through the Senate, 86-11 — although not without controversy. Some Republicans raised concerns about the long-term costs, as virtually every veteran will be covered under the bill. The language of the measure led some GOP senators to worry that various programs and expenditures unrelated to burn-pit exposure could be created under the aegis of the legislation. These are not frivolous concerns. Congress must protect taxpayers by ensuring proper oversight.

In the end, however, the government has an obligation to the veterans who served this country and the families who supported them. The bill is a compassionate response to a real problem — and offers evidence that there is a middle ground for congressional Democrats and Republicans to traverse on issues of importance.

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