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Lauren Boebert votes against bill for veterans dying from burn pits after ‘disrespectful’ SOTU heckling

The Republican congresswoman voted against the approval of the Honoring Our PACT Act on Thursday morning - saying no to supporting veterans returning from war sick and dying from toxic exposure

Rachel Sharp
Thursday 03 March 2022 17:43 GMT
Anger as Lauren Boebert heckles Joe Biden as he talks about death of son

Rep Lauren Boebert voted against a bill to support US veterans sick and dying from toxic exposure to burn pits - just days after she heckled President Joe Biden as he spoke about the topic in his State of the Union address.

The Republican congresswoman cast her vote on Thursday morning against passing the Honoring Our PACT Act, saying no to providing around 3.5 million veterans with access to healthcare and disability benefits after they served their country overseas.

This comes less than 48 hours after she sparked outrage among veterans, advocates and Democrat lawmakers for heckling President Joe Biden as he spoke about veterans suffering from exposure to burn pits in the SOTU on Tuesday night.

Despite Rep Boebert’s opposition, the bill sailed through the House anyway with lawmakers voting 256 to 174 in favour of its passage.

The bill gained some bipartisan support with 34 Republicans joining all the House Democrats in approving it.

Vast, open-air burn pits were used to dispose of trash on US military bases during troops’ deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

After breathing in the toxic fumes every day, thousands of veterans returned home from the wars and developed rare forms of cancers, respiratory conditions and other illnesses but many found themselves shut out of access to healthcare and disability benefits from the Veteran Affairs (VA).

For years, sick and dying veterans and advocates have been fighting for the US government to take the issue seriously and recognise the link between the toxic exposure and their often drastic deterioration in health.

Through the Honoring Our PACT Act, veterans with 23 cancers, respiratory illnesses and other conditions after being exposed to burn pits on deployment overseas will be granted automatic access to VA healthcare.

It is the most comprehensive legislation put forward to date to help veterans impacted by burn pits and the veteran community has been pushing for its passage.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a press conference moments after Thursday’s vote that the pressure is now on the Senate to pass the bill and send it to the president’s desk to sign.

The Senate has its own version of the bill but members of the veteran community have said it is nowhere near substantial enough.

Speaker Pelosi hit out at the criticism about the House bill’s price tag from some conservatives.

“You just gave tax cuts to the richest people in America. Tax cuts for the rich, cancer for the veterans!” she said.

President Joe Biden spoke about burn pits in the State of the Union (AP)

John Feal, a 9/11 first responder and veteran advocate, celebrated the news of the bill’s passage.

“Friends - It is official! HR 3967 the Pact Act has passed the United States House of Representatives,” he tweeted.

“Today I will cry alone and cry for those we lost and were to late to help. And tomorrow I will be a f***ing man on a mission letting the Senate know I am coming. For you.”

Rep. Raul Ruiz, who cosponsored the bill, said it was a “historic day in the fight to get veterans who are currently sick and dying due to their burn pit exposure the care they desperately need”.

During the SOTU, the president dedicated a significant portion of his address to the issue of burn pits and directly linked the death of his son Beau Biden to his own toxic exposure while on deployment in Iraq.

“Many of you have been there. I’ve been in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan over 40 times. These burn pits that incinerate waste, the waste of war, medical, and hazardous material, jet fuel, and so much more,” he said.

“And they come home, many of the world’s fittest and best-trained warriors in the world, never the same.

“Headaches, numbness, dizziness. A cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin.”

It was at that moment that Rep Boebert chose to yell out: “You put them there – 13 of them”, an apparent reference to the 13 soldiers who died during the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.

Mr Biden was about to speak about the death of his son from a rare form of cancer before telling the story of Heath Robinson, a sergeant first class in the Ohio National Guard who died from cancer related to toxic exposure and whose widow was sat in the Senate during the address.

Danielle Robinson with the Second Gentleman at the SOTU (Danielle Robinson)

Danielle Robinson told The Independent on Wednesday that Rep Boebert’s outburst in the middle of the president’s comments about supporting veterans was a “slap in the face” to people like her late husband and said the congresswoman should no longer be allowed in Congress because of her behaviour.

“That was very disrespectful to all those who gave their life to this country,” she said.

“It was so disrespectful. It was a slap in the face. We shouldn’t have her sitting on the House floor.”

Le Roy Torres, a veteran of 23 years and cofounder of burn pits advocacy group Burn Pits 360 who has been diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer and toxic brain injury after being exposed to burn pits, told The Independent that it was “painful” to see a lawmaker behave that way towards veterans.

“We answered the call and honoured our oath to serve and that to me was a slap in the face to all of us,” he said.

“How about you honour your oath you took when you took office and support this issue?”

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