Satirist Jon Stewart gave an impassioned speech on Capitol Hill Thursday (28 July 2022) about the blockage of a bipartisan bill that would have expanded health care access for military veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, prompting some to wonder if he himself was ever in the military.
Stewart joined senator Kirsten Gillibrand (Democrat, New York) in criticising Republican senators for blocking the bill.
Republicans, too, were among those expressing frustration with their inability to get votes on amendments to the PACT act, which would have provided help to veterans suffering toxic exposure to burn pits.
Was Jon Stewart ever in the military? What is his relationship with the United States Armed Forces?
Was comedian Jon Stewart ever in the military?
No. Jon Stewart has never served with the American armed forces.
Born in New York City to a teacher (and later educational consultant) and an energy coordinator for the New Jersey Department of the Treasury, Stewart’s early jobs were varied and often short-lived, but never in the military.
His family members are Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants to the US from Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus.
He studied chemistry and then psychology. Before trying his hand at comedy, Jon Stewart worked as a contingency planner, a contract administrator, a puppeteer, a soccer coach, a caterer, a busboy, a sheet stocker, and a bartender.
What is Jon Stewart’s relationship with the US military and veterans in general?
In May 2016, Jon Stewart joined the Obamas and Bidens in honouring military families at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.
The event marked the 75th anniversary of the United Service Organisations (USO), a nonprofit providing entertainment to members of the US Armed Forces and their families.
Two years later, Stewart joined the USO spring tour. The idea of the comedy tour was to “bring family, home, and country to service members stationed overseas”.
According to the USO, Jon Stewart has “entertained more than 9,000 service men and women both stateside and overseas in locations like Japan, South Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Spain, Germany, and Ireland”.
In other words, despite never having been in the US military, he is a longstanding supporter of those who serve and have served.
What did he have to say about the PACT amendments’ failed passage?
Jon Stewart has been vocal about the bill since it was in its infancy. Yahoo reported in January 2022 that he had “urged congress” to help veterans exposed to burn pits.
“We are a country that loves its veterans,” the comedian said during a House Veterans Affairs Committee virtual meeting, “or certainly would purport to. We support the troops, and we put on our flag pins and we stand, and they get discounts at Denny’s. But the true support of having a veteran’s back is when they need the support.”
Yesterday, when it emerged that Republican senators had blocked the PACT bill, Stewart joined Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand in venting anger.
“So ain’t this a b*tch,” Stewart said. “America’s heroes, who fought in our wars, sweating their asses off outside with oxygen, while these motherf***ers sit in the air conditioning, walled off from any of it. They don’t have to hear it, they don’t have to see it. They don’t have to understand that these are human beings.”
What exactly would the PACT bill mean for veterans?
The full name of the so-called PACT bill is the Honouring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act.
The Senate voted 84-14 in favour of it in June 2022; it passed the House earlier this year.
If it had passed, the PACT bill would have boosted health care services and disability benefits for veterans suffering from exposure to “burn pits”.
These were large, open incinerators troops used to destroy waste while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Troops often used jet fuel as an accelerant.
Exposure to burning jet fuel can result in “damage to the liver, decreased immune response, impaired performance on neurological function tests, and impaired hearing”. That’s according to a public health statement released by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in 2017.
“I’m used to the hypocrisy,” Jon Stewart said of Republican senators yesterday. “I’m used to the cowardice. The Senate is where accountability goes to die. I’m used to all of it… But I’m not used to the cruelty.”