A US military veteran who would have benefited from two recently sacked bipartisan measures in the House and Senate said lawmakers were “spitting” in veterans’ faces by rejecting both proposals.
Michael Braman, 45, is one of many veterans left angry and confused after Senate Republicans suddenly reversed a widely-supported measure that would have expanded medical coverage for millions of ex-servicemen exposed to toxic combustion fireplaces during their service.
Supporters of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson honoring our pledge to fight the Comprehensive Toxic Substances Act – or PACT Act – overwhelmingly expected the House-passed bill to go to the President’s desk to signature.
But in a procedural vote Wednesday night, 41 Senate Republicans blocked passage of the bill, including 25 who supported it a month ago.
“They’re playing games with our veterans and their families, and that’s cruelty,” Braman said. “Our leaders in our country spat in our face by backtracking on this bill.”
The move comes two weeks after a House committee refused to advance Maj. Richard Star’s amendment, which would make medically retired and severely disabled veterans with less than 20 years of active duty eligible for disability benefits. and retirement.
“I’m furious about this,” said Braman, who is counting on both measures passing.
Braman said he was a star athlete in high school who never had breathing problems. But when he returned home from a deployment in Afghanistan, where he said he was constantly around open burning fire pits, he was diagnosed with asthma.
Fire pits were common on US military bases during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hazardous materials, ranging from electronics and vehicles to human waste, were routinely doused with jet fuel and set on fire, spewing toxic and carcinogenic fumes into the air.
“Depending on the wind, no matter where you were, you would have smoke,” Braman said.
After serving in the Army and Army National Guard for 19 years and five months, Braman said the Army forced him into medical retirement in 2014 due to a disability caused primarily by a post-traumatic stress disorder.
Under Major Richard Star’s amendment, Braman and about 50,000 other disabled veterans like him would be entitled to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars more per month in benefits.
When the House Rules Committee failed to advance this amendment two weeks ago, Braman said he felt left out by the nation he served.
At the time, however, he hoped that at least the PACT Act would succeed, expanding Veterans Affairs health care eligibility to more than 3.5 million post-9/11 veterans who were exposed to toxins while serving in the military.
“If we didn’t have both, at least I thought we would have one. I was 100% sure we were going to get it. It was a done deal,” Braman said.
Until Wednesday, the PACT law had received overwhelming support in both legislative chambers. In June, the Senate passed the original legislation 84-14. It underwent minor changes when it moved to the House, where it passed 342-88.
When the bill returned to the Senate, the bill hadn’t changed much, but the views — and votes — of 25 senators had.
Some of the lawmakers told NBC News on Friday that they refused to vote to end debate on the version of the bill that reached the Senate floor on Wednesday because of what a spokesperson for the Wisconsin senator , Ron Johnson, a Republican, called it a “budget trick that allows $400 billion in spending over the next 10 years unrelated to veterans.
Some of their fellow Democrats believe that decision was political.
In remarks to the Senate on his colleagues’ change of heart, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said, “Republicans are mad that Democrats are about to pass climate change legislation and decided to take out their anger on vulnerable veterans.”
Many veterans and their advocates agree.
“I’m so sick of politics when it comes to veterans issues,” Braman said. “It’s downright disgusting.”
The Senate could revoke the PACT law on Monday. In an exchange with reporters Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., said, “We’re going to give our Republican friends another opportunity to vote this Monday night.”
Steven London, 37, another disabled veteran who would benefit from both bills, is optimistic that the PACT Act will pass this year.
The Purple Heart recipient has served nearly 10 years of active duty in the military, including five years in Afghanistan, where he said fire pits were “part of everyday life”.
He was diagnosed with asthma in 2021.
London said he wanted to stay positive, “although it definitely feels like a setback.”