Blindsided veterans erupted in anger and indignation Thursday after Senate Republicans suddenly tanked a widely supported bipartisan measure that would have expanded medical coverage for millions of combatants exposed to toxic burn pits during their service.
Supporters of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act — or PACT Act — overwhelmingly expected the House-passed bill to sail through to the president's desk for signature.
But in a move that shocked and confused veteran groups Wednesday night, 41 Senate Republicans blocked the bill's passage, including 25 who had supported it a month ago.
The PACT Act would have expanded VA health care eligibility to more than 3.5 million post-9/11 combat veterans who were exposed to toxins while serving in the military.
The Senate passed the original legislation 84-14 in June. It underwent minor changes when it moved to the House, where it passed 342-88. When the bill returned to the Senate, the bill had not changed much but the view — and vote — of 25 senators did.
The comedian Jon Stewart, who has advocated for 9/11 first responders and military veterans for years, excoriated Republican lawmakers outside the Capitol Thursday, angrily describing their opposition to the bill as “an embarrassment to the Senate, to the country, to the Founders.”
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.
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