WASHINGTON — Legislation to get health care for hundreds of thousands of Camp Lejeune veterans and their families in the wake of significant water contamination took a significant leap forward this morning as a key Senate committee gave its approval to the bill.
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has just approved legislation on a voice vote. The bill now goes to the full Senate.
The approval turned on a deal between U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, the committee’s top Republican and the bill’s main sponsor, and the committee’s Democratic chairwoman, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state. The two were seen on the Senate floor in the moments before the vote, presumably discussing last-minute details of the legislation.
Although Burr’s bill had the Department of Veterans Affairs paying for health care, Murray thought the Department of Defense – which was responsible for the poisoned water – should pay.
Burr was adamant, though, that the VA should take of the health care.
This morning’s vote marks the farthest the bill has gotten in the past two years, but significant hurdles remain. The full Senate must still approve the legislation. It must get through the House, where a Republican majority remains skeptical of any bill that would increase the deficit. And the bill must get past the Obama administration, where both the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense have said they are opposed.
Burr has worked in the past to get other senators behind his Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act with little success. The previous chairman, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, opposed the bill.
The bill would require the Veteran Affairs Department to offer health care both to veterans and their family members if they have illnesses associated with the toxic water. The bill was co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro, N.C., Democrat.
Both the Veterans Affairs and Defense Departments opposed the legislation at a hearing last month. Some veterans organizations have concerns too, fearing it would take money from existing needs.
Similar legislation has been filed in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., but that bill remains in committee.