Congressional plans to dramatically expand disability benefits for military victims of toxic exposure could cost nearly $85 billion over the next five years and more than $280 billion over the next decade, according to a new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office released on Tuesday.
The high price tag is likely to cause serious concern among lawmakers given the legislation, which advocates say is needed to properly compensate veterans for injuries they sustained while serving overseas.
But in a statement, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-California, said he was still committed to passing the measure into law.
“While this cost may raise eyebrows at first, it is only a fraction of what our country has spent on war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “When we sent our military into harm’s way, we promised to take care of them – and pay for that care – when they got home. This is the true cost of this promise.
The plan – dubbed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act – was introduced by Takano over the summer.
As many as one in five living US veterans could receive some sort of new disability award or medical care under the proposal.
This includes the addition of hypertension to the list of suspected illnesses caused by military service in Vietnam and the presumptive status of radiation poisoning for thousands of other veterans who served in areas where nuclear tests and weapons were used.
It would also require 23 cancers and respiratory illnesses suspected of being linked to toxic smoke from military burning fireplaces to be covered for medical care and benefits for troops who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And many of the provisions would be retroactive, meaning veterans could see checks for tens of thousands of dollars for previously denied disability claims related to newly covered conditions.
Paying for it, however, would be expensive.
CBO officials estimated that about 1 million veterans will be eligible for new medical care options over the next five years under the bill, and more than 2 million will be eligible for new benefits. disability.
The $280 billion award — about $10 billion more than the entire VA budget request for fiscal year 2022 — depends on many factors, including how VA implements the new law and how many veterans who actually apply for the new benefits.
But it would create headaches for lawmakers who must offset some of the spending with other budget cuts and would create a clash with fiscal conservatives who have lamented the ever-escalating cost of VA benefit programs over the past two decades. .
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee officials proposed a similar measure earlier this year that the CBO said could cost $188 billion over 10 years. This plan includes fewer retroactive benefits and some limits on toxic exposure payments.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned him numerous accolades, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.