Brooklynne Mosley says U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall should stop using veterans as political props if he isn’t willing to support federal legislation providing health care coverage for the toxins they were exposed to during deployments.
Marshall, a Kansas Republican, last week flipped his position on the bill to block it from moving forward in the Senate. The procedural move was widely criticized by veterans and their advocates as a political stunt.
“I don’t know if it’s retaliation or a political game, but whatever it is, it’s lame,” Mosley said. “And I think that whatever is happening should not be happening on the backs of veterans.”
Mosley is a Kansas City, Missouri, native and Lawrence resident who was deployed eight times as a member of the Air Force from 2002 to 2013. She said she flew 192 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, serving as a boom operator on a KC-10 refueling aircraft. She now works for a digital media firm that mostly works with Democrats.
Mosley said she inhaled jet fuel every day during her deployments. She provided medical records to Kansas Reflector that document her exposure to “various airborne constituents,” windblown dust, industrial pollution and sand. The military’s assessment of her occupational risks references exposure to chemicals, radiation from radar systems, and hazardous waste sites.
“When we deployed, basically all of us got this letter saying that we basically were breathing in toxic air for the whole time. It’s just the environment,” she said. “Most people who have deployed have those letters in their medical records, acknowledging that they did not breathe in good air. When you’re 20, when you’re a kid, you’re like, OK, there’s this letter that I get. I’m deploying a bunch and you don’t think about it. And then as you get older, you start seeing your friends have weird situations.”
Mosley said she gets sinus infections “all the time,” but that could also be from the pressurization of flying. But she has friends who have ailments from their exposures to hazardous air.
Kansas’ other U.S. senator, Jerry Moran, the top Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, forged a bipartisan deal with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, to provide health care coverage for veterans who were exposed to burn pits during the Middle East wars, as well as older veterans who were exposed to toxins during their deployments in Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere.
Marshall voted in favor of the Honoring Our PACT Act in June when it passed 84-14 in the Senate. In July, the House amended the bill to correct a technical flaw and passed it 342-88, which meant it needed to return to the Senate for another vote.
On Wednesday, Marshall and two dozen other Senate Republicans voted to block the bill after Democrats announced plans to pass a spending package that would allow negotiations on Medicare prescription drugs, end corporate tax loopholes, address climate change, and invest in energy projects.
The burn pits legislation creates $278.5 billion in new spending in the next decade. It also commits to $400 billion of existing spending over the next 10 years that otherwise would have to be approved on an annual basis.
Another Senate vote is planned for Monday.
A spokeswoman for Marshall said the senator is working to modify the bill to remove “reckless spending” that is unrelated to veterans.
“At a time of record inflation and news we are in a recession, decreasing spending should be top of mind,” the spokeswoman said. “Senator Marshall previously supported final passage and will work to ensure quick passage of the legislation with this budgetary issue addressed.”
Tester said proposed changes would tie the hands of the Appropriations Committee, and he called the opposition by Republicans an “eleventh-hour act of cowardice.”
Jon Stewart, a comedian best known as a former host of “The Daily Show” who has advocated for passage of the burn pits legislation, questioned Marshall’s explanation in an appearance on CNN.
Marshall didn’t have a problem with the budget issue when he voted for it the first time, Stewart said.
“What are you f***ing talking about? Seriously? Like, what kind of nonsense?” Stewart said. “I’m standing here with people on oxygen tanks. Do they understand … there are real people who face tragic consequence for their parliamentary f***ery?”
After voting to stall the burn pits legislation, Marshall made a flurry of statements about transgender athletes, abortion, NASA, the Congressional Baseball Game, and vaccine mandates.
“One of my favorite musicals is ‘Chicago,’ and it just feels like the old razzle dazzle, basically, because he does not want to talk about the issue at hand,” Mosley said. “And it’s really easy to find other people to use as props — props of your ambition. And so it is very easy for him to basically try to razzle dazzle himself out of this because there is no excuse for what just happened.”
She said it is tacky that Marshall’s Twitter account features an image of himself holding a Big Red 1 patch with soldiers from Fort Riley. A lot of people from the First Infantry are affected by the burn pits legislation, she said.
Mosley enlisted in the service in January 2002 while still in high school as a way to pay for college. Her oldest cousin had joined the Air Force, and his life seemed glamorous because he had the chance to travel the world. She was the first woman to serve in the military from a family that has served since at least the Civil War.
Starting in 2005, she deployed about every six months in the Middle East. Her last deployment was in 2012 in Jordan, to open an airfield.
She didn’t think about the danger, even though her plane didn’t have a defense system. There was only one incident when she thought she was going to die: Her plane nearly collided with another refueling aircraft.
“I actually closed my eyes and waited for impact at a certain point,” Mosley said. “But besides that, flying is like 90% boredom and then 10% sheer terror for the most part.”
She finds it “insulting,” but not surprising, that politicians would object to the cost of providing health care for veterans.
“I think this country will never ask how do we pay for it when there is a war going on,” Mosley said. “And then when people have ailments, or they have invisible wounds, like mental health, there’s never preparation for that. We’re always prepared to go to war, but we’re never prepared to take care of the people who come back from war.”
When she thinks about her service, “the good outweighs the bad,” and she would probably serve again if she had the opportunity. But she wouldn’t encourage her siblings, or anyone else, to join the military.
“I was deployed, and then I was deployed again and again and again and again,” Mosely said. “I look good on the outside — my innards are pretty f***ed right now. So I would not encourage anyone. … I wouldn’t encourage any kid that I care about.”
Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: email@example.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.