"Their constituents are dying": GOP Senators block bill to aid sick and dying veterans

This week saw military veterans reeling from a move by GOP Senators that left many people angry and confused.

Forty-one GOP Senators voted against the PACT Act (The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act). The bill had initially passed 84-14 in June. Then, in a last-minute procedural move, the bill's final move out of the Senate was blocked by the GOP, including both of Kentucky's Senators, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Rand Paul.

The PACT Act would allow the Veterans Administration to provide care to veterans who were exposed to toxins during their to receive care without having to prove their exposure. If the person could have been exposed, including to Agent Orange, during the Vietnam War and to massive toxic burn pits and oil fires during the two Gulf wars and Afghanistan, they would receive care from the VA.

The bill had initially passed 84-14 in June. Minor changes by the House required a new vote on the 27th. In a last-minute procedural move, the bill's final move out of the Senate was blocked by the GOP, including both of Kentucky's Senators, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Rand Paul.

Democrats claim this is a cynical move by the GOP in retaliation for a negotiated path for Democrat climate change bills. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) came to an agreement with Dem leadership on climate change and other issues.

The GOP claims it’s a budgetary dispute, but no such dispute was brought up in June when the bill passed with wide bipartisan support.

The official roll call vote for the latest vote can be seen on the Senate website.

Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) was blunt in his assessment of the Republican move. “We turn our backs and say, ‘No, we’re going to find an excuse to vote against our veterans,’ while we wave the flag, talking about how great our fighting men and women are.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in by noting that Veterans usually receive broad bipartisan support. “I’m very sad that 80 percent of the Republicans in the United States Senate said no to veterans yesterday,” she said Thursday. “Eighty percent. Forty votes, no.”

Comedian Jon Stewart, a vocal advocate for veterans, was even more blunt in his assessment. "Their constituents are dying. This is a disgrace."

Stewart gave an impassioned speech on behalf of veterans, at times getting choked up. Hundreds of veterans and their families had gone to Washington, DC, to celebrate the passage of a bill that would finally provide them with the medical services they deserve for their service. Instead, they were caught off guard by this move by the GOP to quash their dreams of finally receiving care without having to go through an exhaustive procedure to prove exposure, one that was difficult during Vietnam and is nearly impossible for Gulf War and Afghanistan veterans.

“In an eleventh-hour act of cowardice, Republicans chose today to rob generations of toxic-exposed veterans across this country of the health care and benefits they’ve earned and so desperately need,” Tester tweeted. “Make no mistake — the American people are sick and tired of these games.”

As a comparison between these politicians and the veterans who served their country in wars overseas, Senators only pay 28% of their premiums on gold-level plans from the Obamacare marketplace. Gold-level plans are extremely expensive and provide very high levels of care with few or any additional costs. The veterans who were exposed to toxins receive no care unless they can prove when and where they were exposed.

The future of the bill is uncertain, as is the future of thousands of veterans who were exposed to massive amounts of airborne toxins. Many are dying and cannot afford the care they need.

Bob Peryea

National Correspondent

The Kentucky Daily

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