Vets stage sit-in at Capitol over burn pits vote

A group of veterans is staging a sit-in at the Capitol in response to Senate Republicans blocking a bill that would extend health care benefits to millions of veterans who were exposed to toxins during their service.

Twenty-five senators went from supporting the Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act when it passed the Senate 84-14 last month to helping filibuster the bill when a technically updated version was blocked 55-42 on Wednesday.

“We got punched in the gut, right by those 25 senators that flipped their vote from yesterday,” Burn Pits 360 Executive Director and Cofounder Rosie Torres told The Hill late Thursday.

Torres said the veterans rights group was spending the night on the steps of the U.S. Capitol “as a message to those senators, those 25 senators and asking them to right the wrong.”

“They shouldn’t be here and to know that we’re in that America where they’ve turned their backs on veterans and their families are sick and dying. It’s disgusting. But if this is what we have to do, to get the bill passed, and at all costs, all measures, we’re gonna get it done,” she said.

The group later tweeted it would remain outside the Capitol until the next cloture vote on the bill, which is expected Monday.

The PACT Act was initially passed by the Senate before being tweaked by the House and sent back to the Senate for a second vote, where 24 Republicans and one Democrat voted against the bill.

Torres described the process of passing the act as “ping pong”, saying that “there was just one more procedural hurdle they had to get over, right, and then it was tanked because of political reasons, presumptively partisan politics.”

“This is what it’s come to. Veterans. The sick, the dying. Fed up. Pulling an all nighter to support their fellow vets. This is the hell their service has brought them,” comedian Jon Stewart tweeted, responding to an announcement of the “Fire Watch” hosted by veterans on Thursday night.

Mychael Schnell contributed.