(CNN) – In a surprise move, a bill that would have extended health care and disability benefits to millions of veterans has been blocked.
The “Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022,” also known as the “PACT Act,” was supposed to pass the Senate on Wednesday evening, but at the 11th hour a procedural vote on the bill fell through. .
The bill needed 60 votes to move forward, but the vote was 55-42 on Wednesday night.
It’s now an uphill battle to expand health care and disability benefits for veterans exposed to toxic fires at and near U.S. military bases overseas.
“There will be veterans dying by the time this bill passes,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana.
Activist Jon Stewart called opponents of the bill “cowards”.
“It is an embarrassment for the Senate, for the country, for the founders and for all that is dear to the process,” he said.
Open pits were used to burn everything from garbage to human waste to chemicals at military sites.
An estimated 3.5 million service members were exposed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Veteran Rafael Barbosa is among those struggling with an invisible war wound.
He said he believed his stage four colon cancer was caused by exposures to burn sites.
“There were soldiers who just sat there in this space with this cloud of smoke, toxic smoke above them for over a year. And now that I know, when I think about it in retrospect, it’s honestly awful,” Barbosa said.
Proponents say that if eventually passed, the long-awaited legislation would make it easier for veterans to find medical coverage.
“It takes the burden off the soldier so he can focus on the fight for his life or his family can focus on grieving and healing,” said Amanda Barbosa, wife of Rafael Barbosa.
It would also expand screening.
“And that could have been the difference between stage two of colon cancer, which is survivability in the 90s. And what I ended up with, which is stage four, which is survivability in the 90s. young teenagers, a big difference,” said Rafael Barbosa.
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