Veterans Groups Say U.S. Veterans Victims of GOP, Dems “Political Games”

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A bill intended to help millions of US military veterans access healthcare and disability benefits is the latest victim in the political games between the country’s political parties.

Last Wednesday, 80 percent of Senate Republicans – including Louisiana Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy – banded together to delay the passage of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT Act). The legislation would provide healthcare for as many as 3.5 million veterans suffering from a variety of illnesses, including terminal cancers, after being exposed to toxic burn pits, radiation, and Agent Orange herbicide while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill creates a $285 billion permanent fund over 10 years that would pay for their care. Both Cassidy and Kennedy had previously supported the bill, but claim that they delayed the vote in order to give time to fix a portion of the bill that could have shifted part of the bill’s budget into a separate pocket fund that could be used for other purposes.

“Sen. Cassidy supports the legislation like most of his GOP colleagues – in fact, he voted for a previous version,” Cassidy spokesperson Ty Bofferding told the New Orleans Advocate | Times-Picayune. “Republicans are only asking for a vote on an amendment that will fix the $400 billion drafting error in the text to ensure the bill is implemented as intended. Congress needs to fix this issue and can pass the bill next week.

Democrats, however, claim the move was political retaliation for a deal announced by Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. VA) that would revive the economic, healthcare, and climate agenda championed by the Biden administration without Republican votes.

“The less charitable explanation is this,” said Sen Chris Murphy (D-CT), “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. Because that’s the other thing that’s changed in the last three weeks. Republicans thought that Democrats weren’t going to be able to pass a bill asking corporations to pay a little bit more, tackling climate change. Yesterday, news emerged that there is an agreement that makes it likely that a climate change bill is going to proceed on the Senate floor, and magically 30 votes flip.”

Veteran groups largely seem to favor the Democratic narrative in this case, especially given that many who chose to delay a vote on the bill previously voted in favor of passing it. American Legion Legislative Director Lawrence Montreuil said in a press conference on Thursday that “this delay continues because of political games. …This bill’s genesis came from the fact that 70% of veterans with illnesses related to burn pits were being denied and as a result couldn’t access health care. Sick veterans couldn’t meet the burden of proof. Every day that this delay goes on, veterans are unable to receive care. This is wrong.”

“On behalf of Lousiana’s 283,000 veterans and their families, we are extremely disappointed to see the US Senate’s action that could jeopardize the final passage of a transformational bill that would provide healthcare to veterans exposed to burn pits and toxic hazards in all of America’s wars,” said Joey Strickland, Secretary of Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

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