VFW calls out 25 senators for breaking their promise on burn pits bill

Matthew Medsger

Boston Herald

The Veterans of Foreign Wars responded this weekend to several claims made by Republican senators for refusing to advance healthcare considerations for veterans exposed to lethal toxins at burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“When I heard the news about the failed PACT Act vote I was angered. (Wednesday), 25 senators who voted for the PACT Act last month changed their vote on the exact same bill,” VFW National Commander Tim Borland said after the vote. “These 25 senators who broke their promise to veterans are risking more veterans getting sick and dying with every day this is delayed.”

The bill comes in response to revelations regarding the health of veterans who served in proximity to burn pits used at overseas military installations during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also includes language addressing Vietnam-era veterans exposed to the chemical dioxin via the herbicide known as Agent Orange, and in countries outside of Vietnam.

The bill is — or should be — a legislative layup for any politician aiming to project support for the troops.

It left the Senate in June with the support of 84 senators and found equal favor in the House, where a single sentence was removed before it was sent back to the upper chamber.

Suddenly, 25 Republicans changed their votes, citing $400 billion in added spending, changes in funding structure and spending on non-veteran issues as the reasons.

There’s just one thing: none of that occurred, according to the VFW.

According to information shared by the VFW’s National Headquarters, the bill sends 100% of funds spent to veteran’s healthcare, it saw no change in funding structure from its passage in June, and the $400 billion number was an estimate provided by the Congressional Budget Office for the next ten years; not an actual appropriation figure.

“The only part of the bill that changed was the necessary technical removal of a single sentence. There were no additional sections added,” the veteran’s group wrote. “This bill is 100% dedicated to healthcare and benefits for toxic exposed veterans. Any inferences or accusations to the contrary are untrue.”

Retiring Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey was even offered a chance to amend the bill, but declined if his amendment was to be voted on.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has been sparring with comedian Jon Stewart, a driving force behind the bill, about the vote, claiming it’s a matter of “pork” spending and nothing to do with not supporting veterans who need healthcare.

“There is nothing in the bill that is not related to veterans spending, and don’t take my word for it, an asshole on an iPhone. Read it, it’s at congress.gov — this is for veterans who suffer health effects from burn pits and other toxins, that is it,” Stewart said in response to a Cruz interview by TMZ, where the one-time presidential hopeful claimed Democrats “played a budgetary trick.”

The VFW agrees with the comedian, not the politician.

“The funding structure in the bill was supported by 84 senators in June,” they VFW said. “That provision has not changed.”

The leader of the 1.5 million member veterans organization is clearly displeased.

“Our team in D.C. is mobilizing our grassroots efforts to let these senators know the VFW will hold them accountable if they fail to honor their promise. We will not let the voices of veterans sick and dying from toxic exposure be ignored. Every veteran counts,” Borland said.

Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer said he will bring the bill to the floor again Monday.

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