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Jon Stewart on supporting America's veterans: "Don't penalize veterans for your budgeting error"

Jon Stewart's message to Congress on veterans
Jon Stewart says Congress needs to fund veterans' health care: "This is the cost of war" 00:46

Comedian Jon Stewart has long been an advocate for America's veterans and 9/11 first responders. And as burn pit legislation was thrust into the national spotlight this week, he sat down with CBS News to discuss the country's duty to support those who put their lives on the line to defend it. 

"They lived up to the agreement. They lived up to their end of the bargain," Stewart recently told "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell in an episode of "Person to Person," which will air next week. "You fought for the country, and the country has to hold up its agreement to you. This is the cost of war. You can't — don't penalize veterans for your budgeting error."

Stewart spoke to O'Donnell before the Senate failed to pass a procedural vote that would have cleared the way for a vote on legislation that would have broadened benefits for the approximately 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Veterans have developed illnesses, including terminal cancers, after returning home from war. But under the current laws, they've been required to show the Department of Veterans Affairs that their illnesses were connected to burn pit exposure. The legislation would have removed that burden of proof by assuming certain conditions were related to exposure from the toxic fumes. 

"A toxic wound is an IED that goes off in your body six to nine to 10 years later," Stewart said. "Everybody's immune system is different. So you may develop a glioblastoma from six months' exposure. You may develop it from a three-week exposure. And it may not present itself for five years or seven years. Unfortunately, people think veterans get health care for life. They don't."

Jon Stewart on veterans' health battles caused by toxic wounds 00:23

Stewart also made headlines for his comments after the vote failed, in which he called the decision "an embarrassment to the Senate, to the country, to the founders and all that they profess to hold dear." 

"And if this is 'America First,' then America is f*****," he said at a press conference. 

The bill, known as the Honoring Our PACT Act, could still pass — but it will be a challenge for the Senate to send it to President Biden, who supports the legislation, before the August recess. 

Eleanor Watson contributed reporting. 

In a new episode of "Person to Person," "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell sits down with comedian Jon Stewart to talk about his work as an advocate for 9/11 first responders and America's veterans. The intimate conversation comes ahead of the Warrior Games, which Stewart will host for the sixth time. 

The interview premieres Tuesday night at 10:30 p.m. ET and 7:30 PT on the CBS News app. Download it on your phone, tablet or Smart TV and watch live or on demand anytime. 

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