Burn pits legislation fails in Senate procedural vote

Published: Jul. 28, 2022 at 12:25 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 28, 2022 at 3:18 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (WCAX) - Republican senators have blocked passage of a bill that would expand health care coverage for military veterans exposed to military burn pits.

The pits are used in war zones to get rid of waste. In them, everything was burned. Service members say the pits made them sick and many died, including Vermonters, like Brig. Gen. Mike Heston, who died of a rare form of pancreatic cancer after his three deployments to Afghanistan.

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act or PACT Act was passed by the House earlier this month. But some opponents argued that hundreds of billions of dollars in unrelated spending was included in the bill.

The failure in the procedural vote on Wednesday was a surprise because the Senate originally passed the bill with overwhelming support but it went back there after minor changes in the House.

“We had the votes. We had strong bipartisan support for this bill. And at the 11th hour, Senator Toomey decides that he wants to rewrite the bill, change the rules and tank it. How he convinced 25 of his colleagues to change their votes, I have no idea,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont has worked on burn pit legislation. He said, in part, “My Republican colleagues have decided to block this critical bill, playing politics with the lives of our veterans and their families... It’s shameful and unacceptable.”

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas blamed Democrats for the bill not passing. He says the bill didn’t include two key amendments that had been promised. Cornyn says ultimately, though, he expects the bill will pass.

It’s not clear when a Senate vote will be rescheduled.

Pat Cram’s husband Mike died from prostate cancer after serving overseas with the Vermont National Guard in 2004.

But a local advocate says the fight isn’t over yet.

Pat Cram’s husband Mike died from prostate cancer after serving overseas with the Vermont National Guard in 2004. Cram says the vote is one of the biggest shocks of her life since the Senate seemed poised to pass the bill she’s been championing for years.

“We had worked so hard these last five years, and we were excited to see the fruits of our labor come to fruition. To turn on the TV and hear the news today that 80% of senators had voted no and it didn’t pass... it just took the wind out of our sails,” Cram said.

Cram says she foresees many military families struggling to prove their soldier’s illness is caused by burn pits.

She says now her priority is to keep pushing the message about this devastating cost of war.

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