The American Legion and other veterans advocates gathered in Washington, D.C., today to criticize a delay in what is known as the PACT Act, which expands benefits for the estimated 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
After 84 senators voted in favor of it on June 16, the measure will be delayed and veterans will suffer because of Republican political obstruction. On Wednesday, 25 Republican senators reversed their support and voted no on a procedural vote to advance the legislation.
The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act – which previously passed in both the House and Senate – received technical corrections and went to a procedural vote in the Senate on Wednesday.
The 55-42 vote failed to meet the 60 votes necessary to advance the legislation.
Speaking for The American Legion during a Thursday press event on Capitol Hill, Lawrence Montreuil called the delay “absolutely unacceptable.”
The legislation passed the House of Representatives three times and it was approved in the Senate with wide-ranging bipartisan support.
“The PACT Act passed the House and Senate in a bipartisan manner, yet this delay continues because of political games. There is no reason this bill should not be signed by the president by the end of next week.”
Hours after Democrats struck a deal on reconciliation, Senate Republicans tanked the PACT Act, which would’ve expanded health care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
Host and veterans advocate Jon Stewart, Susan Zeier, who lost her son-in-law to lung cancer, and veterans advocate Paul Rieckhoff are among the bill supporters who appeared on TV news programs to lambaste Republican senators—who had previously supported the legislation—voted against a bill that would provide support to veterans affected by toxic burn pits.
“The PACT Act as written includes a budget gimmick that would allow $400 billion of current law spending to be moved from the discretionary to the mandatory spending category,” said U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who opposed the original measure. “This provision is completely unnecessary to achieve the PACT Act’s stated goal of expanding health care and other benefits for veterans.”
“They are lying,” Stewart said bluntly, pointing to the GOP lawmakers who voted on June 16 for the bill with identical provisions.
Montreuil said the delay impacts toxic-exposed veterans who already have had to wait long enough for their care and benefits.
“This bill’s genesis came from the fact that 70 percent of veterans with illnesses related to burn pits were being denied, and as a result couldn’t access health care. Sick veterans couldn’t meet the burden of proof,” Montreuil said. “Every day that this delay goes on, veterans are unable to receive care. This is wrong. We will not stand by and allow veterans to be denied their duly owed health care. For cancer patients, a one-month delay makes all the difference. The American Legion demands that Congress end this delay and allow our veterans to receive the health care they desperately need and have earned.”
The PACT Act provides a comprehensive framework to improve the presumptive process for burn pit veterans by streamlining access to health-care benefits for those who served in areas of known toxic exposure — regardless of disability status — and provides health care for as many as 3.5 million veterans exposed to airborne hazards and burn pits.
The anger was clear in the members of Congress attending the press event – as was the resolve to continue to work to get the PACT Act from bill to law.