New veterans benefits bill prepared for House vote

For example, this would create a presumption of service connection for approximately 490,000 Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange with hypertension and a condition known as monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, which in some cases progresses to diseases such as blood cancer.

And veterans who served in certain locations for set periods of time would become eligible for hospital care, medical services and nursing home care over a graduated period depending on when they served.

Biden gave the measure a thumbs up during his State of the Union address on the eve of the House debate, which veterans groups said was the result of a number of conversations with White House staff. But it was already a priority for Biden, whose son Beau, an Iraq War veteran, died of brain cancer; the president suggested that Beau’s condition may have resulted from exposure to a combustion hearth.

“Do you know the most expensive real estate in Washington, DC? It’s like a thumbs up in the State of the Union address, just to put that element in there,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference Wednesday outside the Capitol to promote the bill. “And the president spent so much time on it.”

The sweeping House bill is also quite costly: Direct disability benefit payments would increase by $208 billion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And providing new health care benefits, which is funded through the annual appropriations process, plus VA administrative costs, could require an additional $114 billion.