Pallbearer Bobby Rankin, the man who refused to shake hands with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at Rep. Elijah Cummings’s memorial service, said the snub was personal, not political.
Bobby referenced his brother, Jerry Rankin, who, because of his ailments, was denied free health care and service connected disability compensation though the Department of Veterans Affairs.
During a 35-year period, from 1953 through 1987, U.S. Marine Corps service members and their families who lived on the Camp Lejeune Military Base bathed in and ingested tap water that was contaminated with harmful chemicals at concentrations from 240 to 3,400 times the levels permitted by safety standards. An undetermined number of base residents later developed cancer and/or other ailments.
Rankin said his brother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that causes malignant cells to accumulate in a person’s bone marrow, more than a decade ago, after leaving the Marines.
“I could not put my hands in the man’s hand who refused to help my brother or anybody who served his country,” said Rankin. “I couldn’t do it, because I was thinking about my brother. When I saw Mitch McConnell, all I saw was my brother’s face.”
Rankin said he held McConnell responsible for his brother not getting the veterans benefits he deserved. His brother died last October from cancer.
In 2012, Barack Obama signed the Ensminger Act to provide healthcare for the Marines affected by the tainted tap water. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), breezed through the House and Senate. However, there was just one problem; the law didn’t provide the victims with survivor benefits or disability.
In 2014, Senator Bernie Sanders sponsored a bill that would use the unspent funds from the Iraq war to open new facilities and boost healthcare benefits for military veterans. At the time McConnell was the Minority Leader, not Majority Leader, of the Senate, but he used an arcane procedural move to prevent a full vote on the legislation.
McConnell’s reasoning? He said the proposal increased the number of people eligible for benefits, which would overburden the VA and cost too much.
Many of the soldiers and civilians who worked on the base at Camp Lejeune still haven’t received compensation for decades of poisoning.
Bobby Rankin’s story is part of one of the most egregious examples of a decades-long scandal where the government has denied benefits to the victims of the many U.S. military environmental scandals around the world. Worst of all, politicians have repeatedly refused to compensate the veterans who were afflicted while serving their country.