Veterans groups fumed at the Capitol today when the long-anticipated passage of a comprehensive bill to address toxic exposure in the military failed to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome the filibuster, effectively killing legislation decades in the making.
The bill’s demise came as a shock to many as activists were at the Capitol planning to celebrate the passage of the bill sometime this week.
Advocates for reform on toxic exposure have been working for years to even get what was seen as a “compromise” health package that would help the VA meet the needs of the more than 200,000 veterans who were already waiting on the Airborne Toxins and Burn Pits Registry two years ago.
Since then, the list has grown substantially, nearing 300,000 today, and many of those who were on that list two years ago have already died.
The funding would have given the VA money to hire more doctors, more specialists, open new clinics and treatment centers, new hospitals, include more experimental and developing treatments, cover a wider range of ailments, and significantly improve the quality of care the VA provides.
The passage of this bill would have represented a major milestone in how veterans access care for service-acquired diseases, which have plagued military personnel for as long as war has existed.
From the Wounded Warriors Project:
“It’s not just burn pits causing these illnesses and injuries – some who have fallen ill have reported being exposed to chemicals found in fire-fighting fluids, depleted uranium shells, engine fumes, and more. For those seeking treatment for these illnesses and toxic exposure sustained during their military service, the largest barrier for utilizing VA health systems is establishing a service-connected disability.”
We would expect the VA to care for veterans who had been shot in combat, or were injured by an IED, or suffered amputations or any other physical ailment as a result of serving our country.
But we don’t properly treat a range of health issues resulting from service that aren’t as visible, including airborne toxins, carcinogenic fumes, PTSD, anxiety/depression, and TBIs.
Agent Orange – one of many carcinogenic herbicides we sprayed over Vietnam – has killed or maimed more than 400,000 US veterans that we know of. One of those veterans was my father-in-law, who served in Vietnam when he was 19, and died 40 years later within months of his diagnosis.
The United States government settled with about 50,000 of those fully-disabled vets or their surviving spouses between 1984-1997, paying a whopping $3,800 each. Total. Sum.
The monthly benefit for losing a limb in combat is more than that.
Our nation has not fulfilled its promises to our Veterans, and while measures have been taken to slowly address health issues caused by a war from 50 years, those exposed to toxic substances post-9/11 are still waiting for help.
Disabled American Veterans emphasizes just how important this package for veterans would be:
“The Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act of 2021 is sweeping legislation that would provide generations of veterans suffering from several sources of toxic exposures—not just burn pits— with benefits and VA healthcare. The bill would rightly recognize the federal government’s role and responsibility to provide health care and disability compensation to veterans suffering the impacts of their toxic exposure. Additionally, the bill would establish processes to establish new presumptive conditions for exposed veterans.
The Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2021 (H.R. 3967) is comprehensive legislation that would similarly provide healthcare for millions of veterans exposed to airborne hazards and burn puts. However, it would also establish presumption of service connection for 23 ailments, including respiratory diseases and cancers, related to burn pits. The bill would also create a presumption of exposure to radiation.”
The PACT Act was named after Heath Robinson, a sergeant with the Ohio National Guard who was deployed to Kosovo and Iraq. He died in 2020 from lung cancer attributed to burn pit exposure.
Open-air burn pits were common at U.S. military bases during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dangerous materials, from electronics and vehicles to human waste, were regularly doused in jet fuel and set ablaze, spewing toxic fumes and carcinogens into the air.
Many others have developed cancers, respiratory illnesses and other serious conditions as a direct result of exposure to toxins, veteran groups say.
President Joe Biden, who has championed the PACT Act, said he believes his late son Beau Biden’s brain cancer was linked to exposure to burn pits while he was deployed in Iraq in 2008.
But the Senate – who voted 84-12 on an almost identical version of the PACT Act less than a month ago – suddenly and without explanation flipped and killed the legislation in what was supposed to be the reconciliation of bills already passed by the House and Senate.
Only eight Republicans carried their yay vote over from last month’s roll call. And because doing the right thing is applauded as an act of courage these days, here's the list of people who DID THE RIGHT THING:
Every single Democrat in the Senate, plus
Here are the 41 Republicans who voted NO on treating veterans for service-acquired diseases:
As the candidate running to represent the congressional district with the highest number of veterans per capita, who has seen first-hand what this kind of exposure can do to soldiers and the massive VA failure in accepting responsibility in the past, I want to know why Senate Republicans killed a bipartisan effort to staff our clinics, provide emerging technology that will allow us to detect diseases and save lives, and to force hundreds of thousands of veterans to keep waiting for care that may not come before they die.
The partisan toxicity and hatred on issues that should be simple, easy, and universally supported ferments disgust toward Congress and its failures to do what it was meant to do – serve the people.
We need leaders who don’t care who proposes the legislation, or which party backs it, or whose name is on it – if it needs to be done, get it done and get out of the way. Keep moving through the list of issues that are piling up that we can’t resolve because Washington runs on a points system with two camps always trying to outscore the other.
Stop playing for teams and start working for us.
And as for Florida Senator Rick Scott, who led the effort in the Senate to flip the vote and kill the PACT Act…. We’ll see you in two years, buddy.