‘It was a stab in the heart:’ Veterans’ advocates furious over PACT Act failing in the Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Veterans’ advocates and Congressional Democrats are expressing outrage after a bill that would give healthcare coverage to veterans exposed to toxins failed in the Senate.

>>> STREAM CHANNEL 9 EYEWITNESS NEWS LIVE <<<

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, or the Honoring our PACT Act of 2022, ensures that veterans can get VA healthcare coverage for illnesses and medical issues connected to toxic exposure during their military service.

READ: Lawmakers question CEOs of gun manufacturers in wake of mass shootings

Veterans and families of vets came to Washington, D.C. expecting to celebrate a victory with the bill passing but were surprised after 25 Republicans who previously voted for the bill, voted against it Wednesday night.

“It was a stab in the heart,” said Susan Zeier, the mother-in-law of the bill’s namesake, SFC Heath Robinson.

Robinson was an Army veteran from Ohio who died of lung cancer in 2020.

Zeier spoke alongside her 9-year-old granddaughter as she spoke out against the Senators who voted against the measure.

READ: Diabetes advocates frustrated after insulin cost cap is dropped from drug pricing bill

“They’re telling our veterans that they don’t give a damn about them,” said Zeier.

The final vote was five short needed to pass.

It was a surprise for many since the Senate passed the bill last month.

The bill was passed in the House and was sent back to the Senate with a minor change.

READ: Congress examining how some federal agencies may be accessing your personal data

When explaining why they voted against it this time around, Republicans like Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) said they aren’t against the purpose of the bill, but they oppose how some of the funding is structured.

“There is a mechanism created in this bill,” said Toomey. “It’s a budgetary gimmick that has the intent of making it possible to have a huge explosion in unrelated spending.”

“Yesterday, the Senate should have been able to clear bipartisan legislation to expand VA health benefits for millions of men and women who have served bravely in our armed forces,” said Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). “As written, the legislation would not just help America’s veterans as designed. It could also allow Democrats to effectively spend the same money twice and enable hundreds of billions in new, unrelated spending on the discretionary side of the federal budget.”

It’s a moving that Democrats are calling cowardly.

READ: Florida property insurance claims top $3-billion as market continues to slide

“That is political malpractice,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Comedian Jon Stewart echoed the same anger and fear for the future of veterans who are waiting for help.

“They lived up to their oath and yesterday they spit on it in abject cruelty,” said Stewart about the Senators who opposed the bill.

Senate Democrats are vowing to bring the bill up again until it passes and are pushing to keep Senators in Washington, D.C. until it happens, despite an upcoming recess scheduled.

READ: Senate committee hearing focuses on how to better protect police officers

“We stay here until this is done,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). “As long as Republicans keep trying to block this, we stay here.”

“The next time I come back here it better be to sign the damn bill at the White House because I’m sick and tired of this,” said Zeier.

Click here to download the free WFTV news and weather apps, click here to download the WFTV Now app for your smart TV and click here to stream Channel 9 Eyewitness News live.