On Thursday, March 3, 2022, the United States House of Representatives passed HR 3967, the Honoring our PACT Act of 2021. The bill was only expected to pass in the House because the Democratic Party holds the majority of seats. This is exactly how it played out as the final vote was 256-174, with just 34 Republicans voting over the whining criticisms from their fellow GOP members that this bill was too expensive. That’s a bit different from the 363-70 vote on the National Defense Authorization Act a couple of months ago, where only 19 Republicans were worried about budgets when they added $25 billion on top of the already increased defense budget bill proposed by President Biden.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made this point in her remarks before the bill was passed, reminding the House GOP that “The budget costs of it are a cost of war. When we decide we need to engage and initiate in a military action, we should understand that the cost is not just in our defense budget, but also in our veterans budget when they come home.” In fact, Pelosi went on, “the cost of this bill is a fraction – if we're talking budget – of the cost of the Republican tax bill that they passed in 2017, which added $2 trillion to the national debt. I didn't hear anybody complaining about – on the other side of the aisle – about the impact that had on veterans and their concerns about the fiscal soundness of the United States.”
As with most common-sense, good policy ideas right now, the issue at stake is not the House but the Senate. With a slight majority that can be filibustered away and at least two Democratic senators that have shown their corrupt asses by disappointing the American people, the absolutely made up right-wing trope of fiscal conservative concern may lead to an unconscionable compromise.
Pelosi made that point doubly clear at her press conference after the bill passed, saying, "For the Republicans to go to the floor and say their veterans really don't want this help with their health because it's going to cost money and they're more concerned about the budget ... than they are about their health, oh really? You just gave tax cuts in 2017 to the richest people in America. Tax cuts for the rich, cancer for our veterans. That's how we see this discussion and this debate."
Many of the House supporters of the bill are hopeful that the 40 veterans’ organizations that are behind it can create the right amount of pressure to get the Senate to do the right thing. As most of us know, the GOP—especially under Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—has never done the right thing, so hopefully the pressure of midterm elections will force a few conservative senators to support the outcome of the wars they so love having kids fight for them and their donors.
Veteran Affairs Committee chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) praised the work that was done on the bill he brought to the floor last year, saying, “This fight is not over, but I will not rest until our veterans have a guarantee in statute that their government will take care of them when they come home—no matter the cost.”
On Thursday, Jon Stewart joined veterans’ groups in D.C. before the historic vote and spoke about the hope and political will that seemed to be coalescing at the right time. Stewart also warned of rumored amendments from people like Illinois Republican paper-punching bezerker man Rep. Mike Bost, who might try to plead poverty in order to put a Band-Aid where real comprehensive treatment was needed.
Bost did try to push that amendment and Bost didn’t vote for the bill, saying the increased spending of $208 billion over the next 10 years was “wildly expensive.” Not as expensive as a trillion dollar corporate tax cut Bost helped pass in 2017. Looking back on Mike Bost’s career leading up to his position as ranking Republican member on the Veterans Affairs Committee, it seems that the only thing he’s actually done for veterans is vote to allow veterans deemed mentally incompetent the right to continue to own firearms. Good job, buddy!
Open-air burning of trash and other waste has been a common practice in the military for decades. The materials being incinerated can include everything from food to jet fuel and paint. Many veterans come home suffering from serious short- and long-term illnesses related to this kind of exposure to toxic substances.
During hearings, veteran and director of health policy at the American Legion Katie Purswell told Congress that her exposure to burn pits during her time stationed overseas has left her weakened. "I choked on the odor from the winds when they would pick up after a while. I started waking up with bloody noses. It was difficult and painful to breathe. After I got home, I had bronchitis for a year. I don't think my runtime has ever recovered. I just can't take a deep breath anymore."
Now we will see if Republicans and Joe Manchin can figure out a way to tell veterans that while we can pay for them to go abroad and get sick and die for our country, we can’t afford to take care of them when they come home. Maybe Manchin can also explain why they aren’t getting the child tax credit anymore.