Senate Sinks the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. What Now?
Rejection of PACT Act Imperils Benefits and Legal Options for Veterans Exposed to Toxins
The US Senate voted overwhelmingly against the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (otherwise known as the PACT Act) on late Wednesday night, July 27, putting legislation that had previously garnered major bipartisan support at risk of failing. The Senate’s rejection of the PACT Act, which includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, suddenly places the future of Camp Lejeune contaminated water claims in jeopardy — as well as health care benefits for victims of toxic “burn pits” and other chemical exposures.
IMPORTANT AUGUST 2, 2022 UPDATE: One of the senators who previously switched his vote on the PACT Act, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced on Tuesday, August 2nd that Republicans would ultimately support the PACT Act and Camp Lejeune Justice Act when the legislation comes back up for a vote. This news is encouraging and suggests that the PACT Act may be passed by the Senate as soon as this week. Stay tuned to our website for the latest information on this fast-developing situation.
Impact on the Camp Lejeune Justice Act
The PACT Act and its companion Camp Lejeune Justice Act would allow victims of contaminated water at US Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune to file Camp Lejeune claims against the federal government to seek compensation for cancer and other conditions. Before rejecting the PACT Act on Wednesday, Senate Republicans had previously voted overwhelmingly in favor of the legislation.
Veterans’ groups reacted with shock and outrage.
“We really expected yesterday to be a procedural vote that would go with easy passage,” said Jeremy Butler, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “That was the absolute expectation.”
In a statement released immediately following the failed vote, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), one of the nation’s leading veterans groups, slammed the Senate’s rejection of the PACT Act (and Camp Lejeune Justice Act). VFW National Commander Tim Borland wrote (bolding added for emphasis):
“Yesterday, 25 senators who voted for the PACT Act last month changed their vote on the exact same bill. The VFW has said time and time again, that passing the PACT Act will save lives. These 25 senators who broke their promise to veterans are risking more veterans getting sick and dying with every day this is delayed. These senators need to remember that it is the veteran that paid the price for their freedoms, the life they live and the fresh air that they breathe. Our team in D.C. is mobilizing our grassroots efforts to let these senators know the VFW will hold them accountable if they fail to honor their promise. We will not let the voices of veterans sick and dying from toxic exposure be ignored. Every veteran counts.”
At Riddle & Brantley, we have been actively following developments related to the Camp Lejeune Justice Act and stand ready to assist victims of contaminated water with claims against the federal government, if allowed by law. Please stay tuned to our website for the latest information regarding the PACT Act and Camp Lejeune Justice Act. If you’ve suffered from health problems after exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987, call 1-800-525-7111 for a free consultation.
“The recent rejection of the PACT Act is heartbreaking, but hopefully temporary. We hope that legislation will allow our heroes to finally get the justice they deserve.”
–Gene Riddle, Camp Lejeune lawsuit attorney
Why Did the Senate Suddenly Vote Against the PACT Act and Camp Lejeune Justice Act?
Wednesday’s vote was a procedural one and not the first vote that senators have taken on the legislation. Prior to Wednesday’s reversal, the PACT Act (and its accompanying Camp Lejeune Justice Act) was passed by the Senate in a bipartisan 84-14 vote on June 16. However, due to a technicality in the Senate version of the bill, the legislation was sent back to the House of Representatives for a “re-vote.” After the House re-approved the PACT Act, it was sent to the Senate for reconsideration, where legal and political analysts largely expected it to pass again.
On Wednesday night, that expectation was destroyed, with 41 Republican senators voting against the bill — including 25 who had previously supported the PACT Act (and Camp Lejuene Justice Act) suddenly reversing their previous votes. According to reporting by NBC News, “while it’s unclear what prompted the flip, veterans believe the move was political.” As of Friday, July 29, speculation on Capitol Hill was growing that certain senators may have decided to reverse course in retaliation for the equally unexpected announcement of a deal to move forward on the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.” After Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) rejected a similar energy and climate package just days ago, Senate Republicans had thought such a deal was off the table and were equally shocked when Manchin announced his support for the bill on Wednesday evening.
Republican senators rejected claims that their reversal on the PACT Act and Camp Lejeune Justice Act was political. According to the Washington Post, “Republicans say that’s not true. They point instead to a budgetary policy dispute between the two parties.”
Led by Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA), Republicans say the change in votes was prompted by an objection to “the way the bill would change the accounting of about $400 billion in preexisting veterans spending.” Toomey and other Republicans argued that Democrats were relying on a budget “gimmick” to convert previously discretionary spending to mandatory spending, and that they opposed the bill in its current form on principles of fiscal responsibility.
Does the PACT Act (and Camp Lejuene Justice Act) Still Have a Chance?
The short answer is, yes, but nothing is certain. For millions of veterans affected by exposure to toxins, including “burn pit” chemicals in Iraq and Afghanistan and contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987, the sudden failure of the PACT Act is deeply alarming, with the potential to dramatically impact their health care and quality of life. Led by Sen. Toomey, Republican senators maintain that the PACT Act can still be approved upon passage of an amendment satisfying their accounting concerns. Toomey stated, “My concern about this bill has nothing to do with the purpose of this bill. It is a budgetary gimmick that has the intent of making it possible to have a huge explosion in unrelated spending.”
Others are not so sure. Sen. John Tester (D-MO), a strong advocate for the measure, claimed on Twitter that “In an eleventh-hour act of cowardice, Republicans chose today to rob generations of toxic-exposed veterans across this country of the health care and benefits they’ve earned and so desperately need.”
Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of Republican leadership, strongly denied this, but acknowledged the impact of Democrats’ decision to move forward with a partisan energy and climate bill. Thune said that Republican senators’ rejection of the PACT Act was “separate” from any backlash. But, he added, “obviously, it doesn’t help.”
What’s Next for the PACT Act and Camp Lejeune Justice Act?
Following the legislation’s surprise rejection, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced on Thursday night that the Senate would try to pass the PACT Act and Camp Lejeune Justice Act again on Monday, August 1. It is unclear whether the legislation will secure the support of 60 senators needed to override a filibuster. Please stay tuned to our website for more information as the situation develops.
“Will I Still Be Able to File a Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Claim?”
The short answer is that we don’t know for sure yet. Senate leadership has promised to bring the PACT Act and Camp Lejeune Justice Act up for a vote again on Monday, August 1, but passage is uncertain in the face of sudden resistance. To be clear, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act as contained within the PACT Act must be passed by Congress and signed into law to allow Camp Lejeune claims against the government to move forward. President Joe Biden has promised to sign the legislation immediately if it is approved by Congress.
At Riddle & Brantley, we are committed to serving those who have served our country, as well as their families and civilian military contractors. We encourage those in support of the PACT Act and Camp Lejeune Justice Act to contact their senators and urge them to pass this legislation when it is reconsidered.
In the meantime, we continue to help victims of the water contamination at Camp Lejeune prepare for potential claims and lawsuits. If you or a loved one lived or worked at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 and later suffered from health problems, you may have a claim for compensation. Call 1-800-525-7111 for a free, no-obligation consultation, and let’s see how we can help. Our heroes deserve justice.