Political Games Only Give Veterans More Burn Pit Fallout

US Veteran burn pit victims suffered another scar yesterday when Republicans flip-flopped their vote to deny medical support from exposure to the toxic fires. Twenty-four Republicans and one Democratic voted against the now ironically-title Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics) Act the second time around.

Despite the messages from those who voted no, here’s what changed from vote 1 to vote 2:

“(e) NOT A TAXABLE BENEFIT.—A contract buy out for a covered health care professional under subsection (a) shall not be considered a taxable benefit or event for the covered health care professional.”

Original version full text: https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/3967/text

Revised version full text: https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/3373/text

So why did they do it?

Short answer: It appears to be payback for Biden’s passage of the the $369 million climate and energy package. Back-to-back wins was maybe too much for McConnell to bear this close to a mid-term election? Wherever the truth lies, it was not a good move for Republicans as the Act was passed on 8/10 with their votes. It was PR nightmare and since nothing changed, spite  has to be the best answer.

Originally, the veto rationale was: “The PACT Act as written includes a budget gimmick that would allow $400 billion of current law spending to be moved from the discretionary to the mandatory spending category. This provision is completely unnecessary to achieve the PACT Act’s stated goal of expanding health care and other benefits for veterans,” said Pat Toomey from PA. That language stayed and now PACT is law. 

Denis McDonough, secretary of Veterans Affairs, followed Toomey on “State of the Union”, explaining that the $400 billion fund Republicans object to is included in the bill to ensure that “all the spending for this program is for the veterans exposed to these toxins.”

With easier access to the care our Veterans need, this bill would have broaden the understanding of the medical issues associated with the burn pits, therefore alleviating the suffering for millions still untreated. Those Veterans are angry as to them it seems the party that supposedly cares more for them could not care less.

The PACT Act was initially passed by the Senate with the support of Republicans before having to send it back to the House to fix a technical mistake (see above). When it came back up for the call on Thursday, Republicans flipped their votes. Watching the videos from the floor of the Senate shows Republicans shaking hands and fist-bumping each other after the vote. It would appear that this cruel disgrace to our Veterans was more about the upcoming midterms in one month than helping Veterans and their families.

For Vietnam veterans, they’ve seen this before with the governments denial of toxic fall-out from Agent Orange. From our position, this is just one more factor as to why we’re losing the war on Veteran suicide. If the VA doesn’t care about them, it only adds to the emotional and medical locals they’re forced to carry. We can do better.

But that was yesterday. Today, the nonprofit group Burn Pits 360 is staging a sit-in at the Capital and demanding answers.

“We got punched in the gut, right by those 25 senators that flipped their vote from yesterday,” Burn Pits 360 Executive Director and co-founder Rosie Torres told The Hill late Thursday.

Torres said the veterans rights group was spending the night on the steps of the U.S. Capitol “as a message to those senators, those 25 senators and asking them to right the wrong.”

“They shouldn’t be here, and to know that we’re in that America where they’ve turned their backs on veterans and their families are sick and dying. It’s disgusting. But if this is what we have to do to get the bill passed, and at all costs, all measures, we’re going to get it done,” she said.

The group later tweeted it would remain outside the Capitol until the next cloture vote on the bill, which is expected Monday.

What Is a Burn Pit?

A burn pit is an area devoted to open-air combustion of trash. The use of burn pits was a common waste disposal practice
at military sites outside the United States, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Smoke from these pits contained substances that may have short- and long-term health effects, especially for those who were exposed for long periods or those more prone to illness such as individuals with pre-existing asthma or other lung or heart conditions.

Waste products in burn pits include, but are not limited to: chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metal/aluminum cans, munitions and other unexploded ordnance, petroleum and lubricant products, plastics and Styrofoam, rubber, wood, and discarded food. Burning waste in pits can create more hazards compared to controlled high-temperature burning—like in a commercial incinerator.

The VA fact sheet on burn pits says veteran burn pit exposures to high levels of specific, individual chemicals that may be present in burn pit smoke have been shown to cause long-term effects, in some cases, on: skin, respiratory system, eyes, liver, kidneys, central nervous system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, peripheral nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract.

The IOM study  – supplied by this group – found these health effects associated with five or more chemicals it detected at Joint Base Balad in Iraq:

  • Neurologic effects and reduced central nervous system function
  • Liver toxicity and reduced liver function
  • Cancer (stomach, respiratory, and skin cancer; leukemia; and others)
  • Respiratory toxicity and morbidity
  • Kidney toxicity and reduced kidney function
  • Blood effects (anemia and changes in various cell types)
  • Cardiovascular toxicity and morbidity, and
  • Reproductive and developmental toxicity.


Here’s the roll call vote from yesterday. The one Democrat NO vote was cast by House Leader Chuck Schumer. The reason for that was so that he could recall the vote for a later day if something exactly like this happened.

About Once A Soldier: Starting in 2017, our mission is to limit the scars of Veteran suicide. We offer prevention services and postvention services. We reach a national audience and our goal is to become the preferred channel for those who want to help Veteran families who need our services. With 17 Veteran suicides a day in 2021, we believe our two niche services will make a difference to each family and to our nation.