LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Veterans and activists are pushing lawmakers on Friday for a new vote on a bill package that would expand health care for burn pit exposure and other health problems.
The bill package, known as the Honoring Our PACT Act, was passed in the House – only to be blocked in the Senate on Thursday.
Many veteran groups across the country were shocked to see the bill blocked and said that preventing the bill from passing is prolonging the suffering of many ailing veterans.
Robert Shaner is a Marine Corps vet who served alongside Sergeant Roy Eddington. Shaner and Eddington were deployed to Somalia in 1992 and later developed respiratory issues due to burn pit exposure.
While Shaner suffers from sinus issues, Eddington died last year from complications from a rare lung disease.
“If he could have gotten the support that he needed, I don’t know if he would still be with us. It was a very difficult disease that he had,” said Shaner. “He essentially drowned in his own fluid. But his family would have had the support that they needed going through the difficult time, and they didn’t get it.”
Shaner believes the disease was connected to the toxins from open trash burning. But rules within the Department of Veteran Affairs made it difficult to prove.
That would have changed with the Honoring Our Pact Act.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin drafted a part of the bill package with republican Rep. Peter Meijer. Their legislation would have made it easier for veterans to connect their health problems to deployments.
The bill was expected to pass Thursday, but 25 Senate Republicans changed their anticipated “yes” votes over concerns over funding.
Derek Blumke is an Air Force veteran who now works for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“We need to do screening. We need to do outreach. We need to let these people know, one that they were even exposed to things, and two, if we do identify that they have been exposed through increased testing and increased physical exams, we get them the help they need as urgently as we can,” Blumke said.
Blumke worries what was once a bipartisan issue has become another sticking point in an increasingly divided Congress.
“If we can’t take care of these people, what chance does everyone else stands,” he said.
The bill package is expected to be voted on again on Monday.
Shane Liermann is the Deputy Legislative Director of the non-profit Disabled American Veterans. He said they are working with other veteran groups to meet with the 25 lawmakers that switched their votes throughout the weekend.