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Young and Braun vote against PACT Act aimed at helping suffering veterans

The legislation would help post-9/11 veterans suffering from illnesses related to deployment.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — It was an emotional day on Capitol Hill as veterans, advocates, veteran families, legislators, and comedian activist Jon Stewart blasted senators who blocked legislation that would help post-9/11 veterans suffering from illnesses related to deployment.

The disappointment was a shock to many as activists were at the Capitol planning to celebrate the passage of the bill sometime this week.

In June, the U.S. Senate comfortably passed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, better known as the PACT Act, with support from both sides of the aisle.

Earlier this month, the House approved it with a vote of 342-88. It was thought that the bill would soon go to President Joe Biden to be signed into law. 

But a technical fix the House made to the bill sent it back to the Senate. The essence of the bill was the same as the one senators overwhelmingly passed last month.

This time around, 42 senators, including 41 Republicans, voted against the legislation. Among them were Sen. Mike Braun and Sen. Todd Young from Indiana.

Young sent a statement to 13News about his "no" vote:

“I remain committed to ensuring that our veterans have access to the care they have earned. Period. Having voted for this legislation previously, I remain supportive of the bill’s intent. However, Senate Democrats are refusing to allow a vote on an amendment to fix a serious budget gimmick issue. I opposed last night’s procedural vote to enable this amendment to be considered, as I believe it will ensure the PACT Act’s ultimate success. Our veterans are not political pawns and should not be subject to budgetary gimmicks. Now let’s make the fix and get this bill to the President’s desk to be signed into law.”

Young said the vote was procedural and the bill is not dead.

Braun sent the following statement to 13News Friday morning: 

"I support helping veterans who have been exposed to toxic burn pits, and the Democratic majority should allow a vote on the proposed budgetary amendment – which would not change what this bill does or how much goes to veterans by one cent - so it can move forward."

Background on the bill

The bill contains two major components. First, it extends the grace period by which military veterans serving near burn pits can get medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Their eligibility for VA care will double from five years after their discharge to 10 years.

Second, the legislation directs the VA to presume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were related to burn pit exposure, allowing veterans to obtain disability payments to compensate for their injury without having to prove the illness was a result of their service. Currently, more than 70% of disability claims related to burn pit exposure are denied by the VA due to lack of evidence, scientific data and information from the Defense Department.

“Think of the injustice of that," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of the denial rate.

“Never again should veterans be made to suffer the indignity of fighting their own government," added Rep. Mark Takano, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

The bill is projected to increase federal spending by about $283 billion over 10 years and does not include offsetting spending cuts or tax increases to help pay for it. An earlier version the House approved in March cost more than $320 billion over 10 years, but senators trimmed some of the costs early on by phasing in certain benefit enhancements.

Those changes brought on board more House Republicans, such as Rep. Mike Bost, the ranking Republican on the veterans panel. He said the latest version also helps ensure the VA has the staff capacity to meet the additional demand it will be facing.

“It reflects bipartisan negotiations and input from VA, who is ultimately responsible for putting it into practice," Bost said.

Still, many Republicans were not on board. All 88 no votes came from Republican lawmakers. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said the concerns about toxic exposure are real and need to be addressed, but “we have to address the issue in this body of spending money we don’t have."

“We're undermining the sacrifice of the very veterans that we say that we are helping with this measure, by not doing it fiscally responsible," Roy said.

The legislation would also benefit many Vietnam War-era veterans by including high blood pressure on the list of conditions presumed to have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange. It would also extend Agent Orange presumptions to veterans who served in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam and American Samoa.

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