In a surprising turn of events, Republicans in the US Senate blocked the Honoring Our PACT Act, which would expand and improve healthcare for millions of US military veterans. This legislation would provide nearly 3.5 million veterans access to healthcare for exposure to toxic chemicals, specifically those subjected to hazardous burn pits. The PACT Act also includes the highly anticipated Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. From 1953 to 1987, thousands of service members, families, and workers suffered severe water contamination while stationed at Camp Lejeune military base in North Carolina. This bill is key for victims of the Camp Lejeune water crisis and will help facilitate lawsuits.
The Honoring Our PACT Act
Given the focus on United States Military veterans, the Honoring Our PACT Act initially received bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Originally, the bill passed the lower chamber of the House of Representatives in March. Next, it proceeded to the Senate in June and passed with a favorable vote of 84-14. The PACT Act moved to the upper chamber, where the House slightly modified the original bill. The revised PACT Act passed by an even wider margin of 342-88 on July 13.
However, on July 28, twenty-five Republicans changed their votes and decided against the corrected bill. The PACT Act required 60 votes to pass, but it failed by 55-42. If passed, the PACT Act would broaden treatment eligibility for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, radiation, and Agent Orange on US soil and abroad. The package intends to help veterans claim benefits dating back to the Vietnam War and broaden care for post-9/11 veterans.
Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022
Although the Camp Lejeune water crisis ended decades ago, countless veterans and others stationed at the base still suffer today. Individuals at Camp Lejeune unknowingly used water contaminated with harmful chemicals such as Perchloroethylene (PCE) and Trichloroethylene (TCE). Years of exposure resulted in individuals developing various fatal cancers, Parkinson’s, birth defects, and autoimmune diseases, among other adverse health effects.
The PACT Act contains the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, which aims to assist people in filing claims against the federal government. North Carolina law barred many from filing claims for legal compensation after ten years, but this bill would negate the statute.
Bill Still Expected to Pass
While some Republicans have accused the bill of attempting to set aside money for unrelated spending, members of Congress still anticipate that the bill will pass. Veterans, advocacy groups, and lawmakers have all spoken against the vote striking down the Honoring Our PACT Act. Outrage ensued following the blockage, and many took to protests and rallies to criticize the Senate vote. Considering the overwhelming response, Republicans and Democrats will likely reach a compromise and vote again on the legislation in the coming weeks.