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Veterans urge lawmakers in PACT Act halt to 'stop playing games with our lives'

veteran PACT Act
Posted at 5:53 PM, Aug 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-01 21:32:06-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  — This week, the U.S. Senate is set to vote on the PACT Act bill, which received bipartisan support at first, but recently stalled in the Senate with Republican lawmakers voting against it.

KSHB 41 talked to Allen Barnes, a veterans service officer for the VFW, who speaks to veterans every day who are suffering because they were exposed to toxic materials while deployed.

His message to legislators: Figure it out.

"I was personally pissed," Barnes said.

Barnes, who is also a veteran, echoes the sentiments of many folks speaking out after the most recent vote on the bill.

"It just feels like this country keeps dumping on veterans every year and every time it comes to toxic exposure, we are the guinea pigs for them," Barnes said.

The PACT Act would expand medical care and benefits to vets who had toxic exposure while serving, for example, burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Veterans wouldn't have to prove their illnesses came from toxic exposure and the list of illnesses would be expanded.

During the first round of votes in June, the bill breezed through the Senate with a vote of 84-14.

When the bill came back to the Senate in late July, all but one of the 42 no-votes came from Republican senators, claiming Democrats amended the bill to allow $400 billion in mandatory spending.

Democrats say the discretionary spending Republicans prefer would ration care for veterans.

Senators Josh Hawley and Roy Blunt from Missouri and Senator Roger Marshall from Kansas voted no.

Hawley told KSHB 41 that once the bill is finalized, he plans to vote in support of it.

“Senator Hawley supports strong measures to protect our veterans suffering from toxic exposure," a spokesperson for Hawley said in a statement. "While negotiations over the PACT Act are still ongoing, Sen. Hawley plans to vote for final passage of the legislation once details are final."

Blunt took a similar stance to Hawley.

“I continue to support the PACT Act. I am hopeful an agreement can be reached quickly to allow a fair amendment process so we can get this bill to the president’s desk," Blunt said in a statement.

Marshall also sent KSHB 41 the following statement:

Senator Marshall is a veteran, along with his dad, his brother, his uncles, and his son. He is going to do what is right for Kansas veterans, which is ensuring money in the PACT Act is used only for treating victims of toxic exposure. As written, there is language in this bill that creates an opportunity for $400 billion to be spent on priorities totally unrelated to veterans. Senator Marshall is seeking to modify the legislation to remove that reckless spending in a way that would not reduce spending on veterans by even $1. At a time of record inflation and news we are in a recession, decreasing spending should be top of mind. Senator Marshall previously supported final passage and will work to ensure quick passage of the legislation with this budgetary issue addressed. Additionally, please note that Senator Marshall has been supportive of this legislation since last year and was one of only two Republican Senators to come out in support of it back then.
Sen. Roger Marshall

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran voted yes and has been a main proponent of the bill.

Barnes said they shouldn't be arguing about money and they should be focused on passing the PACT Act so vets won't have to suffer.

"My old boss when I first started here - sorry, God bless his soul - who trained me to do my job was a Vietnam vet. Two tours. I watched Parkinson's take that man's life," Barnes said. "And you watch somebody like that suffer and die, put yourself in my shoes and think of the things that I have to look forward to and what I'm concerned about what's going to happen to me."