Benefits Expansion for Toxic Exposure Victims to Cost $300 Billion

Benefits Expansion for Toxic Exposure Victims to Cost $300 Billion

Over the next five years, Congress may spend nearly $85 billion on disability benefits for military toxic exposure victims. That number could increase to as much as $280 billion over the next ten years, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office.

Legislators are likely to be concerned about the hefty price tag, which advocates argue is necessary to compensate veterans for the injuries they suffered while deployed overseas.

House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said in a statement that he is still committed to passing the bill.

"While this cost may raise eyebrows at first, this is but a small fraction of what our country spent on the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "When we sent our service members into harm's way, we made a promise to care for them - and pay for their care - when they came home. This is the true cost of that promise.”

Takano introduced the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT) over the summer. A supplemental disability payout or medical care could be available to one in five veterans under the proposal.

There may have been radiation exposure to more than 6,000 veterans who served in areas where nuclear testing and weaponry were conducted. In addition, hypertension is also associated with military service in Vietnam.

A mandate would also require that 23 cancers and respiratory illnesses linked to toxic smoke from military burn pits be covered for medical care and benefits payouts to troops who had been in service at the time of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. 

Many new provisions would be retroactive, so veterans with previously denied disability claims will see reimbursements for tens of thousands of dollars.

That, however, would cost a great deal of about 1 million veterans who will be eligible for new medical care and disability benefits under the bill over the next five years, according to the CBO.ayouts.

A price tag of $280 billion - about $10 billion more than the entire VA budget request for fiscal 2022 - will depend on numerous factors, including how VA implements the new law and how many veterans apply for further benefits.

However, it would create headaches for lawmakers who would have to cut other budget items to offset the spending and create friction with fiscal conservatives concerned about the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs’ ever-growing costs over the past 20 years.

Earlier this year, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee officials offered a similar measure, which could cost $188 billion over a decade, including some limits on toxic exposure payouts.