RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis helped write part of the PACT Act.
Then he voted against it.
The North Carolina Republican has been critical of the bipartisan bill that enhances health care and disability benefits for thousands of veterans in this state — and millions across the country — who were exposed to toxic burn pits.
Tillis was one of just 11 senators to vote against the bill last month, leading to questions about whether his concerns about it add up.
One thing is true: They’ve been consistent.
“The concern that I have is, we’ve made a promise that I don’t think can be fulfilled unless we go back and look at the resources and the complexity of this bill,” Tillis said in a recent interview with CBS 17 News.
That’s virtually a copy of the statement he issued after his vote, saying in June that “the PACT Act creates new promises to veterans while breaking existing ones, which is why I could not support its passage.” He repeated much of it again last month after it passed the Senate.
But the bigger question is whether his reasoning makes sense.
Mac McCorkle, a professor at Duke University and a political consultant, says Tillis’ move appears to be more principled than political.
“I think it was something that is legitimately and seriously concerned, because he was someone who really worked on the bill,” McCorkle said. “Not your usual political criticism.”
Tillis says his concern is rooted in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs becoming overwhelmed, saying the VA is already “about 1,000 staff short.”
The legislation signed by President Joe Biden allows veterans to obtain disability payments without having to prove certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were a result of their service, by directing the VA to presume that those conditions were related to burn pit exposure.
It will enhance benefits for millions of veterans, after the VA had denied about 70 percent of disability claims related to burn pit exposure due to a lack of evidence, data or information from the Department of Defense.
“And now we’re going to add a massive amount of additional treatments, therapies, disabilities, and I just want to make sure we get it right,” Tillis said.
Both Tillis and McCorkle say the simplest thing he could’ve done was to give the bill a “yes” vote.
“I don’t think he gets any… easy political points for this,” McCorkle said. “And I think a lot of people are going to be mad at him… He still may have made a bad judgment, but it was one I think that was very seriously considered.”
McCorkle says it’s rare for a lawmaker to vote against a bill he helped to write: Tillis and fellow North Carolina Republican Richard Burr authored a section to help veterans exposed to toxic chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune over a roughly 30-year period. Burr voted in favor of the PACT Act.
“I think (Tillis) honestly thought that the bill was going to overwhelm the veterans department because of the expansiveness of who could claim injury under the burn pits provisions,” McCorkle said.
McCorkle contrasted that position with the others who voted against it, saying “most of them had the usual Republican, ‘Oh, it’s spending out of control.’”