ICYMI: Rubio and Gillibrand Join The Lead with Jake Tapper to Discuss Bipartisan Burn Pits Legislation
Jun 07 2022
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) joined The Lead with Jake Tapper to discuss the Senate’s passage of the bipartisan PACT Act. See below for highlights and watch the full interview here.
TAPPER: How does this legislation ensure that the veterans will get the care they need?
GILLIBRAND: This is a great effort by Senator Rubio and I, and others, to work on a bipartisan basis to make sure when our veterans come home, when they are sick because of their service, that they will be covered. This bill creates a presumption: if you served in the War on Terror, if you served over the last 30 years, and were exposed to burn pits, that any disease you have, you are covered.
It changes the current process, where survivors and veterans come forward, they're denied, they're asked to prove epidemiological causation. They're asked to prove what was actually burned at the burn pits. They're asked to prove, “Which burn pit were you exposed to?” It's an outrage. This bill fixes that [so] now they're all covered.
TAPPER: In the House of Representatives, 174 Republicans voted against an earlier version of this legislation in the Senate. 12 Republicans voted against moving forward with the bill in a procedural vote today. What's your message to them as you try to get this bill signed into law?
RUBIO: There's a lot of different reasons why people vote against it. For some, it’s based on cost, which I don't think is a good rationale. And [for] others, it’s based on the burden they think it'll place on the VA. But my view of it is this: the burden of ths is placed on families.
We have people who are, in some cases at the end of their lives,...struggling with this financially. Their families are going through it. Then, on top of everything else, you've got to fight with your own government that deployed you to these dangerous war zones to begin with, exposed you to these toxins, and then you come home with a serious cancer or other illness, and now your entire family is basically turned upside down in addition to the suffering these veterans are going through. So this presumption, I hope, will provide relief to thousands of families across this country that are dealing with this.
TAPPER: So, Senator Gillibrand, am I correct in assuming that the bill, yours and Senator Rubio's bill, will allow anyone who has been rejected in the past a new opportunity to come forward and apply for these benefits, with this presumption that the bill takes care of?
GILLIBRAND: Yes, it does. The bill that Marco and I wrote specifically creates a presumption for anyone exposed to burn pits at any time. And…the larger bill that this was put into also addresses toxic exposures and some problems as far back as Agent Orange. So this bill, overall, is going to give veterans, service-members the support they need…
And my view is, this is the cost of war. If you're going to spend billions and billions of dollars in wars all across the globe over many decades, you have to remember that when these service-members come home, when they are our veterans, we have to stand by them. It is the least we can do. Because they give everything, even their last measure, for this country.
TAPPER: And Senator Rubio, I know you've been working personally with veterans and their families on this. Assuming this legislation passes and becomes law, what will it mean to them?
RUBIO: I think it will mean that they no longer have to be fighting with the VA.
Look, if someone's shot down, or someone's injured, or a bomb goes off and injures you, that's the causation that the traditional system looks at. [Burn pits exposure] is impossible to prove the way they're asking for it to be proven. But I think there's a very strong argument for this presumption. You have people that are suffering from cancers way out of proportion from what they would as members of the general population, and the fact of the matter is, they'll never be able to prove that causation. In the meantime, their families are going bankrupt. They've had to quit their jobs to become full-time caregivers.
In addition to the moral argument for why we shouldn't have to fight with our own government to get this care if you're a veteran[, there] is the reality of what this means to these families and how devastating it is. Hopefully that process will become simpler for them now so they can get the care they need.