HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics ACT (PACT) aims to establish a presumptive link between certain illnesses and exposure to toxic waste dumps in war zones and military camps.
But amid the bill’s controversial failure to pass in the Senate Wednesday, veterans and organizations in the Tennessee Valley don’t want its main purpose tainted.
Air Force veteran Allen Looney visits the Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial each month with Boy Scout Troop 94. He helps clean the Memorial in honor of fallen veterans, he told News 19.
Looney also wants action for those who’ve gone years without guaranteed Veterans Affairs health coverage despite suffering from diseases caused by burn pits.
“They went places where most people wouldn’t want to go,” Looney said. “They took their life in their own hands and went and served. So doing what we can to help them is the duty of the country.”
Both Alabama U.S. Senators, Republicans Tommy Tuberville and Richard Shelby, voted ‘Nay’ in June’s vote on the PACT Act, though – which easily passed with bipartisan support 84-14. For the potential final vote, enough Republicans joined the two to stall the bill 55-42. 60 ‘Yea’ votes are needed to pass legislation and avoid a filibuster from opponents.
“How does this happen? How do you change your mind right when you’re about to make a law that’s going to save lives?” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) angrily remarked after 25 GOP Senators flipped from June’s vote to cause the bill to fail Wednesday.
A spokesperson from Sen. Shelby’s office sent News 19 a statement elaborating on his vote:
“Sen. Shelby is a strong advocate for our nation’s veterans and has been throughout his time in the Senate. However, he has serious concerns with this bill, as it would reclassify hundreds of billions of dollars in current VA funding, allowing Democrats to significantly increase discretionary spending for unrelated liberal domestic programs.”
The setback in the PACT Act means some changes are likely needed before veterans like Mary McCoy of Huntsville’s American Legion Post 237 get guaranteed care. McCoy, who served in Operation Desert Storm, suffered lung damage and acquired asthma from oil fire plumes during a five-month tour.
“When I came home, the last lung chest x-ray I had showed two small spots on one of my lungs, which they’re cancerous or pre-cancerous. I don’t know,” McCoy said. “I feel like the bill should have passed. That’s just how I feel. I think we deserve it.”
Terri Womack of Huntsville-based non-governmental organization Still Serving Veterans said she looks forward to the next vote, which she thinks enough senators will get behind.
“The part that they’ve taken out was trying to expand some ways to improve payment to VA doctors to be able to pull VA doctors in,” Womack said. “I would really encourage people to not freak out that they’re not going to pass this. I think they probably will. I think they’ve cleaned it up procedurally and it should go on through.”
Womack said Still Serving Veterans and other organizations can provide free assistance for veterans looking for healthcare enrollment now and if the PACT Act becomes law.