One year ago on Capitol Hill, veterans advocates, including comedian Jon Stewart and activist John Feal, fought to get the PACT Act across the finish line.
"You want to do it here? Let's dig a giant [expletive] pit 10-acres long and burn everything in Washington with jet fuel. And then let me know how long they want to wait before they think it's going to cause some health problems," said Stewart.
Congress got it done after a brief stalemate.
President Joe Biden signed the The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act last August, which expands health care benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
Cindy Aman was one of the millions of veterans exposed to the pits, but the Veterans Administration initially denied her claims.
"When you burn plastics, when you burn metals, when you do all these things and then you're inhaling them — of course your body is not going to react like it's supposed to," said Aman.
Burn pits were a primitive answer to get rid of heaps of garbage in places like Iraq and Afghanistan — garbage including batteries, human waste, chemicals and more.
The PACT Act ensures veterans like Aman get automatic coverage for 23 illnesses linked to exposure, without having to prove how they got sick. Now, the same people who pushed to get the PACT Act to the president's desk are trying to get another message out.
"Hundreds of thousands of folks have applied for expanded care and benefits under the law. But we've got to make sure more veterans know that they can apply. That's why I wanted to flag two big PACT Act deadlines coming up," said Sen. Jon Tester.
There’s no deadline to get PACT Act benefits, but there is a deadline of August 9 to qualify for retroactive benefits going back to last year.
Kerrie Wieners' husband Robert died of lung cancer after his own exposure to burn pits. The VA rejected covering his care. Wieners was hesitant to re-apply for help.
After calling TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, she applied and received benefits going back to her 2010 denial.
"I finally feel like I'm going to be okay and I feel supported and validated," said Wieners.
Help from TAPS is available at 800-959-8277 or at taps.org/pactact.
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