TEXAS, USA — Lawmakers are in complete agreement that toxic burn pits have harmed our troops and that the harm sustained by exposure needs to be addressed.
U.S. Congressman Pete Sessions said it's been an issue since the 1991 Gulf War where Iraqis burned their oil derrick and continued to be an issue in the following conflicts where toxic burn pits were used.
"It caused extensive lung, heart, respiratory, eye problems and guys came back with it," Sessions said. "It became a problem for people who were in the VA systems and people not in the VA system. We ordered the VA to go and figure this out."
So why then, did 25 Republican Senators switch their stance on the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act — or PACT Act last week to create a block of 42 in opposition?
Congressman Sessions told 6 News there were actually two bills on the matter: The republican's H.R.6659 bill and the Democrat's H.R.3967.
The Democrat's Bill had made the most progress, with versions passing both the house and the senate. Still, Sessions said Republican's backed a version that focused on specific veterans who were exposed to the toxic pits.
"If you presented the medical problems (associated with burn pits) and you were a veteran, in a military theater, and you can draw a direct connection (to burn pits), we automatically put you in," Sessions said. That's what the Senate bill is. That's what I signed up for."
Sessions said Republican's wanted support to go specifically to the veterans, affected by those toxic burn pits, and who could show they were in a theater were they were present, but Democrats had a broader, and more expensive, view.
"The house side bill, the Democrat's bill, takes everyone who was in the military during that time and gives them full VA benefits," Sessions said. "No mater wither they were near a burn pit, no mater if they have conditions or not."
A statement by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough statement on the PACT Act in May said "Study after study demonstrates Veterans in VA care do better — and this legislation could bring up to 3.5 million more Veterans into our care."
McDonough's statements were an endorsement of the legislation, but Sessions said such legislation could double the number of individuals the VA currently serves and make things even harder for the people who do need help.
"That would collapse the system. You are adding in millions of people over a smaller few who were injured severely," Sessions said. "This is literally doubling the size of the VA overnight, and we are having problems just serving people who have needs today."
Sessions said some Republicans had supported the democrat bill with the belief that additional amendments would restrain spending. Senator John Cornyn told Reporters some of the Senators that worked on the deal felt betrayed.
"The leadership of the democratic party double-crossed... Senator Tester and Senator Moran made an agreement there would be two amendments. Senator Schumer agreed to the same thing and he reneged on that," Cornyn said. "This bill will ultimately pass but will be more fiscally responsible."
Sessions said Republicans would not support the bill until both sides came to a compromise on the cost of the legislation.
"Republicans said we are not going to let you have an extra $700 billion. It had to fit within the budget purview and they did not do that. That is why Republicans are now saying we will not vote for it," Sessions said.
Sessions said the U.S. House may need to come up with a new version of the legislation if it is going to move forward.