WLOX-TV Biloxi

Mississippi U.S. Senators vote for bill to aid vets injured in burn pits

By Flora Dedeaux

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - After failed efforts to amend the “Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act of 2022,” or the PACT Act, the legislation has finally passed in the U.S. Senate and is on its way to be signed into law.

The act is designed to expand healthcare access to U.S. military veterans and will specifically help veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits during service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Senator Roger Wicker both voted in favor of the act. However, the 86-11 vote comes after both senators, along with more than 40 other Republican senators, had major issues with the bill, such as a “$400 billion budget loophole” that would allow the government to spend the bill’s funds on “unrelated priorities,” according to Wicker.

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey created an amendment aimed to change the legislation and eliminate this “budget loophole,” but after a Senate vote failed to reach the 60-vote threshold, the PACT Act was voted on and passed as-is. It’s now on its way to President Biden’s desk.

Some Democrat senators, including Connecticut’s Chris Murphy, argued that Republicans may be rejecting the PACT Act as a way to protest separate, climate-focused bills proposed by Democrats. Many Republicans supported the PACT Act when it was first voted on. However, when the bill was re-voted on after “administrative issues” were fixed, the vote count shifted from 84-14 to 55-42.

“The less charitable explanation is this, Republicans are mad that Democrats are on the verge of passing climate change legislation and have decided to take their anger out on vulnerable veterans. Because that’s the other thing that’s changed in the last three weeks,” Murphy said. “Republicans thought that Democrats weren’t going to be able to pass a bill asking corporations to pay a little bit more, tackling climate change. Yesterday, news emerged that there is an agreement that makes it likely that a climate change bill is going to proceed on the Senate floor, and magically 30 votes flip.”

However, Republicans claim it all had to do with spending. Senator Wicker expressed his sentiment in a Tuesday evening press release.

“I appreciated Senator Pat Toomey for leading the effort to help make this legislation better for veterans and their families who do not want to see the federal government use their cause to spend billions on unrelated priorities,” Wicker said. “Senate Republicans will continue our efforts to ensure these funds are spent only on veterans.”

Tuesday, Senator Hyde-Smith addressed efforts to amend the bill, but explained why she voted for it regardless.

“A major expansion of VA benefits to help veterans exposed to toxins will become law. The legislative process worked and I’m honored to again vote for this bill,” Hyde-Smith said. “I appreciate the efforts to address the underlying budgetary issues in the bill, but know that we ultimately have a commitment to our veterans. The VA must now implement and deliver this help efficiently and thoroughly. Our veterans deserve nothing less.”