Bill aiding veterans impacted by burn pits, other toxic chemicals stopped by GOP Veterans groups are slamming GOP senators for blocking a bill that would have given health care and benefits to veterans affected by from toxic chemicals and burn pits in wars dating back to Vietnam.

The Senate passed a bill to help sick veterans. Then 25 Republicans reversed course

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Veterans suffering from toxic wounds, from Agent Orange in Vietnam to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, were expecting to celebrate yesterday. After decades of fighting, a bill to grant them benefits in health care was poised to pass the Senate. Instead, in a surprise move, 25 Republican senators blocked the same measure they'd supported just last month. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Last month, the Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act passed the Senate 84-14 with deep bipartisan support. But a technical error required another vote. And this time, 25 Republicans switched their vote. Veterans groups had planned a victory celebration outside the Capitol. Instead, they gathered to rage against those senators.


SUSAN ZEIER: Every single one has pictures with veterans on their Facebook pages, on their websites. Well, screw that. They don't support veterans. If you vote no on this bill, you do not support veterans.

LAWRENCE: That's Susan Zeier, mother-in-law of Heath Robinson, the Ohio guardsman the bill is named after. Robinson's daughter, age 9, stood weeping by the podium. Robinson had lobbied for this bill until he died two years ago of a rare cancer. Democrat Jon Tester thanked the Republican senators who still voted for the bill. But he said any delay comes with a price.


JON TESTER: There are going to be veterans die between now and when this bill passes.

LAWRENCE: Republican Senator Pat Toomey led opposition to the bill, objecting on the Senate floor to what he called a slush fund.


PAT TOOMEY: It's a budgetary gimmick that has the intent of making it possible to have a huge explosion in unrelated spending, $400 billion.

LAWRENCE: But it's the same bill that 25 Republicans voted for last month. Outside the Capitol, celebrity advocate Jon Stewart called it a betrayal of sick veterans.


JON STEWART: They lived up to their oath. These people thought they could finally breathe. Well, they're not on Senate time, they're on human time, cancer time.


STEWART: Don't you have families?

LAWRENCE: Vets' groups say they'll keep lobbying and hold politicians accountable now and in November.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

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