WASHINGTON, DC/ESTILL, S.C. (WSAV) — A legislative roadblock for a bill in Washington has many veterans angry.
They say the stalled burn pit benefits legislation shows a “lack of support” from their elected officials.
The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act, or PACT Act, a bipartisan measure would have expanded medical coverage for millions of military men and women exposed to toxic burn pits during their service.
The PACT Act would have expanded VA health care eligibility to more than 3.5 million post-9/11 combat veterans who were exposed to toxins while serving in the military.
Wednesday night, 41 Senate Republicans blocked the bill’s passage, including 25 who had supported it a month ago.
“There’s no excuse. It is total bs!” said New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
“I took these people for their word. Apparently, their word means nothing to us,” said James Duncan, a Lowcountry veteran. Duncan is one of those angry veterans.
“Of all the things in this world you could mess with why would you mess with the people who risked it all for you to be put in those positions you are in,” Duncan said.
Duncan is from Hampton County and signed on to fight when he was 18 years old. He spent almost a decade in the military including two tours in Kuwait, one in Afghanistan, and a lot of time in camps next to a burn pit.
“They are just open holes in the ground dug by equipment where runoff is stored,” Duncan explains. “Human excrement by the tons. Chemicals, rubber tires, you name it. If it can be destroyed, it was placed in the burn pits.”
“Twenty-four-seven, 365 days a year the burn pits were burning.”
Now Duncan says those burn pits, and what was in them have left him with sight and speech issues and he now has to use a walker to get around.
“I suffer from vertigo,” Duncan says. “PTSD. It’s been diagnosed. I have respiratory issues.”
“I was not concerned about a burn pit because I didn’t think it could affect me. Not so much as a Scud missile being flown overhead and missing the area you live at by yards.”
“Little did we know we were already being hurt by commanders and leaders that placed us there.”
“This war cost me, my family,” continues Duncan. “When I say, my family. My ex-wife and children were separated. All because I didn’t know what was going on with me.”
“I am living proof of what these burn pits are about. My body will never be the same.”
Duncan says he feels betrayed. Calls to Sen. Tim Scott and state lawmakers offered no help, or have gone unanswered altogether.
“Politicians have gotten to the point where it’s not about politics anymore, it’s about the name of the party.”
“Their words mean nothing to me as a politician,” a defiant Duncan said. “Their actions and deeds are what I go by.”
“You have known about these burn pits for the last two-plus decades. This is not something that has just come out. I have been suffering from the ramifications of these burn pits for two decades now.”
The only thing that he wants now is the bill to pass and for veterans like him who are suffering to finally get some help.
“That trust I had in our country, in our elected leaders,” said Duncan. “I expected them to take care of us in the way the contract I signed 23 almost 24 years ago. I don’t have that trust or faith in them anymore.”
In Georgia, Senators Ossoff and Warnock, both Democrats, voted in favor of the bill both times.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham supported it with his votes as well. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott has opposed the legislation in each of the votes.
His team said in a statement to News 3:
“Senator Tim Scott is a strong supporter of our veterans and has advocated for more resources for them throughout his career. Unfortunately, this bill currently includes $400 billion in extra spending unrelated to our veterans. The senator urges Democrats to come to the table to create a clean final bill that gets our veterans the resources they deserve.”
Many political experts see this as a retaliation vote for the fact that a Democratic-led energy and health care bill appears to have the votes to pass.
Democratic leaders have said they want to bring up the legislation again next week and believe it has enough votes to pass.
But that needs to happen quickly. The Senate is supposed to take a recess on August 5.