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Gillibrand, activists outraged as Senate fails to pass bill to protect veterans exposed to burn pits

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York
Susan Walsh

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is outraged at Congress’s failure to pass the legislation that would provide health care to sick veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.

“This is the worst form of overpoliticization I’ve literally ever seen,” Gillibrand said. “We had the votes. We had strong bipartisan support for this bill. And at the eleventh hour Senator Toomey decides that he wants to rewrite the bill, change the rules, and tank it.”

Twenty-five supporters of the bill switched their stance during a last-minute revote in the Senate on Wednesday due to a procedural technicality.

“How does this happen?” Gillibrand said. “How do you change your mind when you're about to make a law that's going to save lives? It makes no sense. It's an outrage. And there has to be accountability. So we have to go to these 25 offices. We have to make sure every one of these senators understands that they have just sentenced veterans to death.”

Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) said Republicans rejected the bill because it would reclassify nearly $400 billion in discretionary Veterans Affairs spending. Toomey called this a “slush-fund” that would add to America’s $28 trillion debt.

Activists called on the Senate to delay their recess and pass the bill before leaving for holiday. If the bill is altered, it will have to pass the House again before reaching the President.

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.