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Senate Republicans vote against PACT Act, local veterans react

The non-partisan PACT Act would have expanded healthcare coverage to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits while they were overseas.

TOLEDO, Ohio — On Thursday, Senate Republicans surprised everyone by voting against the bipartisan PACT Act, which would have expanded healthcare for the country’s veterans who had been exposed to toxic burn pits during their time in the service.

There's been a firestorm of reaction from veterans across the country, including close to home.

The bill originally passed the Senate with an overwhelming yes vote a month ago but had to be voted on again due to a technicality.

The PACT Act would have doubled the time period that veterans who had been exposed to the burn pits could get medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. It would also require the VA to presume certain illnesses and cancers were caused by the burn pits.

A retired Air Force veteran from Toledo continues to deal with that very thing.

38-year-old Dan Meyer is a medically retired staff sergeant from the Air Force who served in the middle east as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

He was exposed to burn pits in 2007, 2008, and 2009, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Friday, Meyer said he feels betrayed by the congresspeople who shot down the bill on Friday, calling their vote “unAmerican”.

“We send people to war and we expect to be taken care of when we come home,” said Meyer. “If you tell us to go do something, we do it with no questions asked.”

Meyer described in vivid detail the burn pits he saw during his time in the service.

“Imagine a city with twenty thousand people and everything that goes into that. So, you’ve got auto mechanic shops and medical facilities and all their waste. Instead of properly disposing of it like in the states, they bulldoze it into a pile, pour jet fuel on it and burn it – everything. I mean vehicles, ammunition, cans, paint cans - it was like being in a sandstorm and it made us cough all day long.”

Meyer started having health problems in 2010. He says his lungs will never be the same and he suffers from other side effects as well.

Meyer’s wife Danielle takes care of him now.

She talks about the sacrifice Dan made for his country after joining the Air Force after 9/11.

Although she has known Dan since high school, the couple only recently reconnected, marrying on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

“We started talking about when we were going to do the wedding and we threw that date out that changed our lives,” said Danielle. “It changed Dan’s life for the rest of his life and we wanted to turn that day into something positive.”

The exposure to the toxic burn pits that happened to many of this generation of veterans harkens back to an earlier struggle that Vietnam veterans went through to get better care after their exposure to Agent Orange.

Agent Orange was a chemical herbicide used by the U.S military during that war to clear leaves and vegetation for military operations.

Charles Heiser is the Executive Director of Lucas County Veterans Service Commission who served in the Army and the Air Force.

He says the politics that played a part in the Senate’s vote on Friday are only hurting veterans, who faithfully did their job.

“Being a veteran is giving up those years of your life, realistically,” said Heiser. “When the VA denies it or politics get in the way,  you’re stuck in the loop, stuck with medical bills you didn’t plan on, you’re stuck with not getting coverage for stuff that happened to you while you were serving in the military doing what you’re told to do.

Since Meyer got sick while he was in the service he was able to get care for his illness.

But he says other veterans who were also exposed to the burn pits weren’t so lucky.

“I was one of the lucky ones. I got sick on active duty. It’s a shame I have to say I’m lucky. I’m in a wheelchair and on oxygen when so many of my friends have gotten sick since they got out and can’t get the benefits they deserve,” said Meyer.

Just a month ago, Sherrod Brown came to Toledo and, surrounded by veterans, proudly announced that Congress was close to approving the bill.

At that time, most Senate Republicans were in favor of the non-partisan bill, but enough of them changed their mind on Friday to scuttle its passage.

Still, the bill is likely to pass, eventually, but it will take more time - something Dan Meyer says a lot of veterans do not have.

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