Senate Passes Historic Vote Bringing Health Care Relief to Burn Pit Vets

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For the millions of veterans made ill by their exposure to fire pits, the hour of relief has finally come with the approval of a new bill to provide much-needed treatment.

The Senate on Thursday voted 84 to 14 in favor of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Treat Toxic Substances (PACT) Act of 2022. The bill, which passed by a majority, represents the most comprehensive reform of veterans’ health care. to date, establishing an alleged service connection for veterans seriously ill after inhaling toxic fumes that hovered at their overseas bases, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This bill is personal as it bears the name of my late husband, SFC Heath Robinson, but it represents so many veterans across our country who have succumbed to their burn exposures,” Robinson’s widow said. , Danielle, to Fox News. “Today is my daughter Brielle’s ninth birthday. She was born on Father’s Day. We think this bill passed today is Heath’s way of telling us he’s proud from us for bringing this bill to fruition.”

She continued, “He was a fighter and a soldier until his last breath and he will always be remembered as a hero. His life was meant to impact so many people and now it will help so many of his brothers. and sisters.” sisters now and in the future.”

The passing of the Honoring Our PACT Act is the culmination of a decades-long fight by veterans and their families for the U.S. government to provide proper treatment for serious illnesses that all service members developed after their return. of the battle.

“You know, it’s one of those days where you feel like all the hard work and blood and sweat and tears that they’ve all put in for all these years have finally paid off,” said comedian and activist Jon Stewart at a press conference on Capitol Hill after the final vote. “The real work of administering this bill begins. It doesn’t solve anyone’s problem. It just removes the burden of their fight that should have been there in the first place.”

Jon Feal, who in addition to lobbying Stewart on behalf of veterans, worked to get Washington to pass the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, said the Honoring Our PACT Act will ensure service members finally receive treatment appropriate for their illnesses. “It’s really about never leaving anyone behind and this lifesaving $278 billion piece of legislation will help bring in 3.5 million veterans at risk of burning fires. This is historic. .”

Stewart first became involved in lobbying efforts after meeting Rosie Torres, who started the advocacy group Burn Pits 360 more than a decade ago with her husband, LeRoy Torres, after returning from service during the war in Iraq with a myriad of health problems due to his prolonged exposure to fire pits at his Balad base.

“Today the Senate voted to pass one of the most historic and monumental pieces of legislation we have helped create. My family lost 13 years away from our children. We missed birthdays, movie nights, school trips and priceless moments. we’ll never be back.” Rosie Torres told Fox News. “Today is not just about passing legislation, it is about closure and honoring the living and the dead.”

“Our leaders have finally recognized that these injuries and illnesses are the direct result of armed conflict caused by an instrument of war.”

Fox News’ investigative unit has done extensive reporting on veterans sickened by their exposure to burning fireplaces. Many service members said the pits were a crude cremation method in which every waste item was burned, including plastics, batteries, appliances, medicine, dead animals and even human waste. Objects were often set on fire using jet fuel as an accelerator.

The pits were used to burn over 1,000 different chemical compounds day and night. Most service members breathed in toxic fumes without protection.

Burns, like this one at FOB Marez, were originally seen as a temporary measure to get rid of the huge amounts of waste generated at the bases.  The range of materials sent to the pits would have included plastics, batteries, metals, appliances, medicines, dead animals and even human waste.
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Burns, like this one at FOB Marez, were originally seen as a temporary measure to get rid of the huge amounts of waste generated at the bases. The range of materials sent to the pits would have included plastics, batteries, metals, appliances, medicines, dead animals and even human waste.
(John Nelson)

The Honoring Our PACT namesake is just one of many made fatally ill from their exposure.

Heath Robinson is believed to have contracted a rare autoimmune disease, mucous membrane pemphigoid, after being exposed to burn outbreaks during a 13-month tour of Iraq while serving in the Ohio National Guard. Although Robinson received help while still in the military, his wife, Danielle Robinson and mother, Susan Zeier, have long been advocates for other veterans.

Stewart referenced their relentless lobbying of the Honoring our PACT Act during Thursday’s press conference.

“You are toughness personified and the way you carried the banner for your family and loved ones and through their pain,” Stewart told Zeier directly while fighting back tears at Thursday’s press conference. “That’s the thing, you know. Advocating is a very nice thing to do, but doing it in your grief when you know it’s not going to help your loved one, but that’s not what matters. for you. It’s that no one goes through what you’ve been through. And that’s just the epitome of grace.

The Honoring Our PACT Act is a major piece of legislation that will help the more than three million veterans suffering from rare cancers, lung diseases and other respiratory illnesses. With current law, veterans who suffer an illness or disability due to exposure to a hearth must, in most cases, establish a direct service connection to be eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs benefits – a task which has often proven difficult to achieve.

BURN-PIT BILL PROVIDES HEALTH CARE TO VETERANS TO OVERCOME ON-GOING CRISIS

Thousands of American servicemen who served on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to the thick black smoke.

Thousands of American servicemen who served on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to the thick black smoke.

The new law removes the burden of proof for veterans, with the establishment of a presumed service link to their illnesses. Service members would only have to show proof of deployment to one of the countries listed in the bill during the Gulf War or the Global War on Terror.

“Our service members and their families give their all for our country. And as a nation, we promise to take care of them when they return home. Finally, we honor that promise and pay the price we owe them for our freedoms. , our values, and our safety.” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), one of the bill’s lead sponsors, said in a statement. “Today’s Senate passage of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson honoring our PACT Act is a huge victory for service members, veterans and their families who have fought for years for health care and benefits. that they won.”

With Senate approval, the bill will now return to the House, which had already voted in favor in March, before going to President Biden to sign it.

“When young men and women make the choice to dedicate their lives to the service of our nation, they rightly expect their country to take care of them when they return,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R -FL), one of the main sponsors of the bill. , said in a statement to Fox News. “It has taken far too long, but we have never abandoned our veterans because they have never abandoned our country. I hope the House passes this bill quickly, so that President Biden can finally sign it.”

During this year’s State of the Union address, President Biden mentioned his support for the new legislation as well as his son Beau, who he said may have fallen ill after returning from military service in 2001.

BIDEN SIGNS TWO NEW BILLS TO HELP BURN DIT VETERANS

“They [service members] come home to many of the fittest and best trained warriors in the world, never the same. Headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer that would put them in a flag-covered casket,” Biden said during his March speech. “One of those soldiers was my son, Major Beau Biden. I don’t know for sure if the fire pit he lived near, that his hooch [barracks] was there in Iraq, and before that in Kosovo, is the cause of his brain cancer and the illness of so many other soldiers. But I’m determined to find out whatever we can.”

While the Senate’s passage of the Honoring our PACT Act is an important step, advocates say there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that all veterans made ill from their exposure to burning pit are getting the help they deserve.

“The grassroots activism is over. But now they have to pass this bill, which is in its infancy, and watch it mature, because this bill is going to help a lot of people,” Feal said. “These VSOs [Veteran Service Organizations] are going to have to look at this bill to make sure it’s well managed, and that both men and women are taken care of at the VA. And this is where the real work begins. That’s when you roll up your sleeves.”

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Rosie Torres says today’s vote brought a sense of relief after fighting for veterans’ rights for so long.

“We walked the halls of Congress for 13 years, days feeling downcast by bureaucratic inertia and a ‘delay and denial’ system, but we never gave up.”

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