Public Outrage Causes Republican Leaders Who Blocked Veteran Care Bill to Reverse Course
Americans criticize Senators who block the PACT Act, calling them “stab-vets-in-the-back senators”. Watch Jon Stewart's Fox News interview railing against Senators who voted against the bill.
House and Senate Republicans prioritized partisan politics over supporting American veterans. GOP Senators not only opposed the bipartisan PACT Act (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act), but they filibustered providing vital care to veterans to protest an unrelated comprehensive budget reconciliation measure Democrats recently proposed.
This result surprised and disappointed many veterans advocates, given just a month earlier the measure passed the Senate 84-14 with bipartisan support. Only a few minor changes were made to pass the bill in the House (where a bipartisan majority overcame opposition from Republicans including newly-elected Speaker Mike Johnson). After passing the House, the PACT Act required another vote in the Senate before sending the legislation to President Biden to be signed into law.
A Marine disposes of trash at a burn pit in Forward Operating Base Zeebrudge in Afghanistan on March 6, 2013. (Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz/Marine Corps)
The same leaders who thank vets for their service on TV blocked vital care to vets in an effort to score political points and appease the most extreme elements of their base.
Following growing backlash and criticism from veteran groups and Republican-appointed Defense officials, the Senators reversed their stance on the PACT Act and finally passed the bill. Absolutely nothing changed in the bill, but they were forced to stop their game because people were paying attention.
Who the PACT Act Will Benefit and How 41 Senators Almost Tanked It
Senate Republicans filibustered the PACT Act, which benefits one-in-five veterans, giving them expanded health care services for injuries related to burn pits, Agent Orange and more. Veterans who served from the Cold War to those who served in Afghanistan are entitled to these new benefits. The PACT Act also provides new benefits for vets who served in the Vietnam War in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Guam.
For those who served more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bill established a presumption of service connection for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers related to toxins from burn pits. During these wars, burn pits would dispose of various types of toxic waste, but smoke inhalation by soldiers then, is now taking a toll on our veterans’ health. The timeline for Gulf War medical claims is also expanded under the legislation.
Republican Vote to Block PACT Act Criticized
Senate Republicans blocked the bill and the immediate help it would provide to American veterans as part of their political vendetta against the new comprehensive budget reconciliation measure.
Their opposition followed a similar tactic of opposition by House Republicans, including Speaker Mike Johnson, but a minority of Senate Republicans was able to use the filibuster to overcoming the bi-partisan Senate majority's support for the bill.
The decision was heavily criticized by Democrats, Republicans, and everyday Americans.
Sen. Toomey (R-PA) stated on the Senate floor when he voted against the PACT act that he was concerned about the cost of giving necessary healthcare to our veterans. Sen. Tester (D-MT) responded, “If you have the guts to send somebody to war, then you better have the guts to take care of them when they get home. If we don’t take care of our veterans when they come home, they’re going to say, ‘Why should I ever sign the dotted line? Because the promises I made and the promises the country made, only half that deal is being respected.”
“Twenty-five Senators who voted for the PACT Act last month changed their vote on the exact same bill,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander Tim Borland in a statement. “[They] are risking more veterans getting sick and dying with every day this is delayed.”
Common Defense Veterans also condemned the block: "“The failure to ‘honor our pact’ and pass this critical legislation to provide health care for veterans who suffered toxic exposure during their service is catastrophic. And it’s tragically too late for many who put their lives on the line. Veterans like me returned to a country where politicians pay lip service to their suffering while holding benefits over their heads."
Jon Stewart, a comedian who lobbies for veteran support, called those who switched their votes “stab-vets-in-the-back senators”.
“The less charitable explanation is this: Republicans are mad that Democrats are on the verge of passing climate change legislation and have decided to take out their anger on vulnerable veterans,” Senator Chris Murphy of of Connecticut summarized the situation.
America promises to protect her veterans after their years of service and sacrifice, but politicians have allowed political games to interfere with their responsibility to the veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much for our country. By blocking the PACT Act, Republican Senators demonstrated a troubling willingness to use the soldier, then forget the vet.
Jon Stewart Criticizes Senators Who Voted Against the PACT Act for Putting Their Political Agenda Above Veterans' Wellbeing
Support for the Pact Act
Marine Corps veteran, Adam Tomblin, said he is grateful to his elected officials who helped get the bill passed. “We were there to serve our country, but in the process we were exposed to toxic chemicals and denied proper care when we got home,” said Tomblin. “But Raphael Warnock has changed things. He helped pass a law to expand healthcare for tens of thousands of Georgia veterans.”
The Veterans of Foreign Affairs organization also said in a statement:
“Today’s passage of the PACT Act is a landmark victory for veterans of all ages, of all conflicts and their families. Too many of our veterans have suffered over the years from effects of toxic exposure, with no medical care, no recompense, and no support to their loved ones. They fought with everything they had to prove their illness was service-connected and were delayed or denied care until death overtook them.
No amount of money or legislation can bring them back. However, today, their fight was vindicated."
How the PACT Act Got Passed
In response to public outcry and condemnation of some Republican Senators willingness to play political games with veteran healthcare legislation, most of the Republican Senators who voted to block the bill reversed their vote. The bill passed on August 2, 2022. Though nothing in the bill changed, the Senators realized what they had done was putting their political career on the line. Because all upstanding Americans agree, regardless of their political party, abandoning out vets after they dutifully served to keep our nation safe is unacceptable.
Read More About the Pact Act
Millions of vets will now be able to access lifesaving benefits. Here's how the bill will help and how it almost got blocked in the Senate.
8 Republicans joined Democrats voting for the PACT Act. 41 of them voted against it. These are all the senators that voted against it. Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) supports the Bill but changed his vote to no once it was apparent the vote would fail as a procedural move to allow a future vote on the legislation.
A bill that would benefit 1-in-5 veterans failed to pass through the senate. The PACT Act would improve health care and benefits for veterans suffering injuries from burn pit smoke, Agent Orange spraying and other military contaminant exposure. Veterans ranging from the Cold War to Afghanistan could qualify.