North Carolina’s senators were two of only 14 members of the U.S. Senate to vote against advancing a measure aimed at helping members of the military exposed to toxic fumes.
Both of North Carolina’s U.S. senators voted against a bill Thursday that aims to deliver care and benefits to military service members exposed to toxins — including benefits specifically for those at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune.
Republican Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis were two of only 14 members of the U.S. Senate — currently split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats — to vote against the Honoring Our PACT Act, which the White House said was “the largest single bill in American history to address our service members’ exposure to burn pits and other toxic substances.”
The bill moves to the U.S. House for final consideration, where it is expected to pass.
Burr has not released a statement on the vote. Tillis said in a press release that even though the bill included the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which he had previously authored to address those exposed to water contamination at the Marine Corps base in Jacksonville, North Carolina, that the Department of Veterans Affairs was not equipped to deliver the care the bill promises.
“I strongly support the goal of the PACT Act and I drafted large portions of the legislative text,” Tillis said. “Just this week, I listened to [Department of Veterans Affairs] Secretary [Denis] McDonough describe the challenges the VA is facing in meeting current obligations and it’s clear that the Department does not have the capacity to properly implement the PACT Act. This legislation will have adverse operational and administrative impacts, and I remain concerned that it will result in increased wait times, delays in receiving care, and a substantial increase in the claims backlog.”
The nearly $300 billion in increased healthcare benefits in the bill addresses an issue that the VA has long denied. Currently, more than 70 percent of claims, according to the AP, are denied for health issues likely caused by the so-called “burn pits,” large fires with toxic fumes created to dispose of trash that were close to where service members lived and operated.
The bill also extends healthcare benefits for service members from five to 10 years after their service ends. “It’s a confounding indignity for our nation’s heroes to sacrifice everything for our country only to come home, get sick and discover the VA is not there for them,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.