Millions of America’s revered veterans are one signature away from victory. They’ll at long last receive the medical care they’ve been seeking for illnesses related to breathing toxic smoke from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s been a tough uphill battle that they’ve been valiantly fighting for 13 years.
The PACT Act or the ‘Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act’, was passed by an overwhelming 86-11 vote, but not before a tumultuous week of showdowns and arm wrestling in the Senate.
After years of lobbying on behalf of sick veterans, advocates of the PACT Act, almost all veterans and some suffering from their illnesses, literally camped on the steps of Capitol Hill for an entire week as the proposed Act moved through government channels.
Only one week ago the Act was in danger of not passing when 42 Republicans thought the proposed Act didn’t quite measure up or go far enough.
Veterans advocates who couldn’t bear to see any further delays convinced the Senators of how they were happy with the Act as it stood, and it was enough to sway their reluctance. If the vets were okay with it so were they, but they had to hear it from the horse’s mouth first.
Co-founder of the advocacy group Burn Pits 360, Rosie Lopez-Torres, ecstatically said, “This was all of us coming together for our veterans. Knowing that we now have what we’ve been waiting on for 13 years, I think it’s time for a celebration.” Burn Pits 360 helped author the terms of PACT.
There’s nothing small-scale about this accomplishment. One in five veterans suffers in some way from burn pit toxicity. This tally’s up to roughly 3.5 million. How ya like them apples?
The negative effects of burn pits include asthma, emphysema, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and death. Up to this point, the Veterans Administration has denied over 78% of burn pit claims as being non-service related.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester said of the victory, “What it does is make sure that veterans who have been exposed to toxins … are made whole again.”
Tester spoke for every veteran in America when he said, “We send these men and women off to war, we tell them to go off and protect our freedoms. They do it, and oftentimes things happen that change their lives. Sometimes we can see the injuries. Sometimes we can’t, especially in cases with toxic burn pits.”
Here’s what the Act does. Veterans will be granted “presumptive” benefits for 23 types of cancer and respiratory illnesses that are believed to be associated with the toxic smoke, and their disability pay status will be expedited. This could equate to several thousand dollars per month depending on the severity of the case.
Currently, veterans of recent wars receive five years of VA health coverage upon discharge. These warriors will now receive an additional five years.
The old-timer vets haven’t been forgotten about either. Those who were kicked to the curb after being exposed to agent orange in Vietnam were included. If it resembles an agent orange-related illness, that’s what it is.
It’s been a long time coming and our veterans deserve no less. Too bad it took too long to help some of them.