John Feal struggled to hold back tears on Sunday in Midtown.
Through the Fealgood Foundation, Feal — a demolition 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 the VA NY Harbor Healthcare System at 423 East 23rd St., alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and veterans, Feal fumed with anger and swelled with sorrow over the PACT Act being stalled in the Senate.
The fury rose from Feal amidst the summer heat as he seethed over the Republican blocked bill that, if passed, would have expanded benefits for veterans who have experienced toxic exposure. Many saw the PACT Act as a surefire bipartisan pass yet 25 Republican senators flipped their vote Wednesday.
Currently veterans wage a second war on the Homefront that sees them battling to prove that terminal illness they are suffering through were a result from serving the country through such horrors as burn pits. Many of these men who say they are looking for aid in medical bills and financial support for their families.
“I got a call from Patrick in St. Louis… stage three cancer. He’s got a nine-year-old and a two-year-old. I said don’t thank me yet. I said don’t thank us yet, we didn’t do anything. He goes you did more than most because I’m gonna die knowing that my family will be taken care of. If we do not get this bill passed this week, I fail Patrick and St. Louis,” Feal said with tears in his eyes.
There is a second opportunity for them, however. Schumer and Gillibrand are touting the PACT Act will be put back on the senate floor.
“This bill right here, I will bring to the floor this week. And we hope, pray, plead, and believe that our Republicans will join us and both Democrats and Republicans will vote yes,” Schumer said. “This is not a Washington issue. It’s a national issue to tens of millions of veterans. It’s a New York City, Long Island and upstate New York issue as they said there are 3.5 million veterans in New York State, and it is an issue for all of them.”
Gillibrand spoke about the burn pits themselves and the damage it has caused the men and who she says battled for the safety of the country. She believes this is something the United States owes them.
“This is a simple issue. Our service members served in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and during their service, the US military opened up massive burn pits, where they threw in every type of garbage you can imagine from computers to electronics to human and medical waste, and then they lit it on fire with jet fuel that creates such a terrible toxin when they breathe it in. They’re all now in their 30s and 40s and 50s suffering from horrible cancers and dying far too young of these diseases. We just we owe these men and women the health care that they deserve. And that’s what this bill does,” Gillibrand said.
With the looming shadow of the VA hospital hanging over them and several small flags posted in the dirt, Feal called out those he feels are responsible for preventing the Bill’s passage and, in turn, the security of America’s veterans.
“Senator [Pat] Toomey [of Pennsylvania] took advantage of it and instead of doing what is morally right, he decided to do what was immoral, un-American, unpatriotic. Our bill should have passed last week, again, his reckless action, his callous actions have caused pain and suffering to 3.5 million veterans,” Feal said. “You can bet you can bet they’re gonna get this bill passed. Because if they don’t, I got more bail money and more lawyers. And I’m gonna make someone’s life really, really f***ing miserable.”