‘Un-American, unpatriotic’: Veterans and politicians outrage in Midtown over burn pit bill stalled in Senate
John Feal struggled to hold back tears on Sunday in Midtown.
Through the Fealgood Foundation, Feal — a demolitions expert who worked at Ground Zero during and after 9/11 — has dedicated his life to fighting for the rights of first responders and veterans. Standing outside VA NY Port Health System at 423 East 23rd St. alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and veterans, Feal fumed angrily and swollen with grief over the stalling of the PACT law in the Senate.
Fury mounted from Feal amid the summer heat as he seethed over the Republican-blocked bill that, if passed, would have expanded benefits for veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances . Many saw the PACT Act as a surefire bipartisan pass, but 25 Republican senators reversed their vote on Wednesday.
Currently, the veterans are fighting a second war on the home front which sees them fighting to prove that the terminal illness they suffer from is the result of serving the country through horrors such as burning fireplaces. Many of these men say they are seeking help with medical costs and financial support for their families.
“I got a call from Patrick in St. Louis…stage three cancer. He has a nine-year-old and a two-year-old. I said don’t thank me yet. I said don’t thank us yet, we haven’t done anything. He says you have done more than most because I will die knowing my family will be taken care of. If we don’t pass this bill this week, I will fail Patrick and St. Louis,” Feal said with tears in his eyes.
There is a second opportunity for them, however. Schumer and Gillibrand tout that the PACT Act will be delivered to the Senate.
“This bill here, I will present it this week. And we hope, pray, implore and believe that our Republicans will join us and that Democrats and Republicans will vote yes,” Schumer said. “It’s not a Washington problem. It’s a national problem for tens of millions of veterans. It’s a problem for New York, Long Island and upstate New York because they said there were 3.5 million veterans in New York State, and that’s a problem for all of them.
Gillibrand spoke about the fire pits themselves and the damage they caused to men who she said fought for the safety of the country. She thinks it’s something the United States owes them.
“It’s a simple problem. Our servicemen served in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and during their service the US military opened up huge burning pits, where they dumped every type of trash you can imagine, from computers to electronics to human and medical waste, and then they turned it on. on fire with jet fuel which creates such a terrible toxin when they inhale it. They are all now in their 30s, 40s and 50s and are suffering from horrible cancers and dying far too young of these diseases. We simply owe these men and women the health care they deserve. And that’s what this bill does,” Gillibrand said.
With the ominous shadow of the VA hospital hanging over them and several small flags displayed in the dirt, Feal called out those he believes are responsible for preventing the bill’s passage and, therefore, the safety of American veterans.
“Senator [Pat] Toomey [of Pennsylvania] took advantage of it and instead of doing what was morally right, he decided to do what was immoral, un-American, un-patriotic. Our bill should have been passed last week, yet again his reckless action, his ruthless actions have caused pain and suffering to 3.5 million veterans,” Feal said. “You can bet you can bet they’re going to get this bill passed. Because if they don’t, I have more bail money and more lawyers. And I’m gonna make somebody’s life really, really miserable.