(CNN) – In a surprise move, a bill that would have expanded health care and disability benefits for millions of veterans was blocked.
The “Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022,” also known as the “PACT Act,” was expected to pass the Senate Wednesday night, but in an 11th hour change, a procedural vote on the bill failed.
The bill needed 60 votes to advance, but the vote was 55-42 on Wednesday night.
It’s now an uphill battle to expand health care and disability benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits at and near U.S. military bases overseas.
“There are going to be veterans who die between now and when this bill is passed,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D- Montana.
Activist Jon Stewart called opponents of the bill “cowards.”
“This is an embarrassment to the Senate, to the country, to the founders and all that the process to hold dear,” he said.
Open air pits were used to burn everything from trash to human waste to chemicals at military sites.
It’s estimated 3.5 million service members were exposed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Veteran Rafael Barbosa is among those battling an invisible wound of war.
He said he believes his stage four colon cancer was caused by burn pit exposures.
“There were some soldiers that were just sitting there in that space with this fume, toxic fume cloud over them for over a year. And now that I know, when I think about that in retrospect it’s honestly horrifying,” Barbosa said.
Advocates say that if eventually passed, the long-awaited legislation would make it easier for veterans to seek medical coverage.
“It takes away the burden on the soldier so that they can focus on fighting for their life or so that their family can focus on grieving and healing,” said Amanda Barbosa, wife of Rafael Barbosa.
It would also expand screening.
“And that could have been the difference between stage two colon cancer, which is survivability in the 90s. And what I ended up with, which is stage four, which survivability in the low teens, big difference,” Rafael Barbosa said.
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