A staggering 25 GOP senators who voted to pass the bill last month suddenly changed their minds and voted no on Wednesday
Republican senators have been accused of “sentencing veteraner to death” after they blocked the passage of a landmark bill that would finally give US service members sick and dying from toxic exposure to burn pits access to the healthcare that they need.
Demokratiske lovgivere, veterans and advocates including TV host Jon Stewart spoke out in a highly emotional press conference on Thursday morning as the bill that had been expected to become law by the end of the week was suddenly derailed by the Republican party.
“This is total bulls***,” shouted Senator Kristen Gillibrand. "De har nettopp dømt veteraner til døden."
På onsdag, the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring our PACT Act collapsed in the US Senate when dozens of Republicans who previously backed the bill unexpectedly changed their minds and decided to vote against it.
Regningen mottatt akkurat 55 av det nødvendige 60 stemmer for å vedta et cloture-forslag på onsdag, som bare åtte republikanere stemte for å flytte den videre.
A staggering 25 of those who voted against it had voted to pass the same bill just one month earlier.
Tilbake på 16 juni, the Senate had overwhelmingly voted to pass the bill, with senators voting 84 til 14 in favour of expanding healthcare access to thousands of veterans who had served the US overseas.
But now, with the Senate scheduled to go on a month-long recess on 5 august, tusenvis av veteraner i desperat behov for helsetjenester og uføretrygd har nå blitt stående høyt og tørt enda lenger.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Den uavhengige on Capitol Hill on Thursday that he is “going to give our Republican friends another opportunity to vote on this Monday night”.
Much of the blame for sabotaging the bill’s passage was levelled at Senator Pat Toomey who – ahead of the vote – spoke out against the bill and said that he wanted to add an amendment on provisional spending.
Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, Rosie Torres – cofounder of BurnPits360 and the wife of veteran Le Roy Torres, who has a rare terminal condition caused by burn pits – told the senator that more veterans will die because of him.
“Senator Toomey, how many veterans are going to die because of you?" hun spurte.
“Please explain to us: what is an acceptable amount of deaths?”
Ms Torres branded the Republican senators who switched their votes “25 villains” as she said the veteran community “demands answers, we deserve justice”.
Mr Stewart, who has been lobbying the government to pass the bill, slammed the “abject cruelty” of the GOP lawmakers who had voted no and warned them that delaying passing the PACT Act is costing lives.
He hit out at the senators who plan to go on recess next week when the veterans who are sick and dying don’t have time to wait.
“They’re not on Senate time. They’re on human time. They’re on cancer time," han sa.
“Don’t you have families? Don’t you have people who are deciding how to live their last moments?” he asked the lawmakers.
Mr Stewart singled out Senators Toomey, Rick Scott and Mitch McConnell as he pointed out the hypocrisy of the lawmakers who claim they support veterans but voted against the PACT Act.
He read out one particular tweet posted by Mr Scott on Wednesday where the Florida Republican showcased photos of him giving out care packages to service men and women – the very same day he voted against the bill.
“I was honored to join @the_uso today and make care packages for our brave military members in gratitude of their sacrifice and service to our nation,” read the tweet.
Mr Stewart mocked the tweet saying “there’s a beautiful picture”.
“Did you get the package? I think it has some M&Ms in it and some cookies,” he mocked.
He also impersonated Mr McConnell’s voice as he revealed that one month earlier he had told veterans “we’ll get it done”.
“Mitch McConnell yesterday flipped," han sa, referring to the senator’s sudden decision to then vote no to the bill.
Mr Toomey, i mellomtiden, “won’t sit down” with the veterans he is impacting while he claims that he has the backing of several veterans groups.
“Pat Toomey claims that he has veteran groups behind him," han sa.
“I call bulls*** – these are the veteran groups,” he said gesturing around at the multiple veterans and representative from veterans groups who had gathered at the press conference to condemn the bill’s stalling.
“They’re all here. They don’t stand behind you in fact you won’t let them stand in front of you," han sa, branding Mr Toomey a “f***ing coward”.
The TV host said that – after he has spent more than a decade lobbying the US government first for 9/11 responders and then for veterans – he is “used to the hyocrisy” and “lies”.
“The Senate is where accountability goes to die," han sa.
“They’re never losing their jobs. They’re never losing their healthcare.”
Han la til: “This is an embarrassment to the Senate, to the country and to the founders and to all that they confess to hold dear. If this is America first then this is America f***ed!”
I mars, the bill was renamed after the late Sgt Heath Robinson who died in May 2020 from a rare cancer caused by breathing in toxic fumes from burn pits while serving in Iraq in the Ohio National Guard. Han var 39.
His mother-in-law Susan Zeier choked back tears as she branded the senators voting against it “reprehensible” while dresssed in her late son-in-law’s army jacket.
Just one month earlier she had symbolically taken off the jacket saying that she no longer needed to “carry” Heath “on her shoulders” after the Senate passed the bill.
De 16 June vote was had been celebrated by veterans, their families and advocates who have spent years battling for the US government to take the issue of burn pits seriously – as the passage meant it seemed certain that the bill was weeks away from becoming law.
The bill was sent back to the House for a final vote where it passed with a 342-88 stemme på 14 juli.
På grunn av en mindre teknisk reparasjon huset gjorde, Senatet ble pålagt å stemme over det igjen før det kunne sendes til president Joe Bidens skrivebord for å bli underskrevet i loven.
Men - mellom en måned og den neste - bestemte dusinvis av republikanske senatorer at de ikke lenger støttet utvidelse av helsetjenester og funksjonshemmede tilgang til amerikanske tjenestemedlemmer og bestemte seg for å endre deres stemme.
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester slammed the move on the Senate floor on Wednesday night.
“This eleventh-hour act of cowardice will actively harm this country’s veterans and their families," han sa.
“Republicans chose today to rob generations of toxic-exposed veterans across this country of the health care and benefits they so desperately need.
“And make no mistake, more veterans will suffer and die as a result.”
Under lovverket, 23 kreft, luftveissykdommer og andre tilstander vil nå formodentlig være knyttet til en veterans eksponering for brenngroper mens de er utplassert i utlandet.
Dette betyr at tjenestemenn og -kvinner som har kommet hjem etter å ha tjenestegjort sitt land og utviklet en av disse forholdene, vil få automatisk tilgang til helsetjenester og uføretrygd.
Det vil også finansiere føderal forskning på virkningen av brenngroper på nasjonens tropper.
En estimert 3.5 millioner tjenestemedlemmer og veteraner anslås å ha blitt utsatt for brenngroper og luftbårne giftstoffer mens de tjenestegjorde i USA utenlands, ifølge Veterans Affairs (VA).
Under USAs kriger etter 11. september i Irak og Afghanistan, store friluftsgroper ble brukt til å brenne fjell med søppel inkludert matemballasje, menneskelig avfall og militært utstyr på amerikanske militærbaser.
Tusenvis av amerikanske tjenestemedlemmer kom hjem fra utplassering og utviklet helsetilstander inkludert sjeldne kreftformer, lungetilstander, luftveissykdommer og giftige hjerneskader forårsaket av puste inn giftige gasser fra gropene.
Men, inntil nå, bevisbyrden har alltid ligget på veteraner for å bevise at tilstanden deres er direkte forårsaket av denne giftige eksponeringen.
I september 2020, en senior VA-tjenestemann vitnet for kongressen at nesten 80 prosent av uførekrav som nevner branngroper ble avvist mellom 2007 og 2020.
De siste seks månedene, presidenten har prioritert å takle spørsmålet om branngroper og gjentatte ganger oppfordret lovgivere i huset og senatet til å vedta lover for å støtte veteraner.
Under hans State of the Union-tale i mars, sa at han tror sønnen Beau Biden kan ha dødd som følge av giftig eksponering for brenngroper under utplasseringen til Irak.