JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Veterans poisoned by toxic burn pits could get much-needed relief if a bill passed in the U.S. House also gets approved by the Senate.
According to one estimate, as many as 3.5 million veterans who have served since Sept. 11 were potentially exposed.
The Wounded Warrior Project highlighted the current status of the “Honoring Our PACT Act” during a news conference on Wednesday advocating for lawmakers to finish the job and send it to the president.
“We’ve got to get it done,” WWP CEO Michael Linnington said. “The time is now to get it signed.”
Linnington said the bill is comprehensive and covers areas proposed by several previous bills. It would provide all veterans access to health care if they have an illness that can be attributed to exposure to toxins while they were deployed, including cancers and respiratory illnesses.
It also allows educational and other benefits for family members of veterans who become ill from toxic exposure while they are receiving treatment and recovering.
Linnington explained how toxic burn pits worked overseas. He said since there was no waste management company coming to haul away trash and waste, the military burned it in pits instead -- sometimes for days, weeks and months on end.
“A burn pit is really, think of a large field where you dig a big hole in the field -- football field size some of them -- and anything and everything that you don’t want to take with you, you put in there, you pour jet fuel on it and you set it ablaze,” he said. “What we didn’t know was we were poisoning our own bodies by doing this type of burning.”
Burn pit toxins have affected many veterans like Andrew Myatt, who served 24 years in the Army National Guard.
“I have what’s known as B cell adult leukemia, it’s adult (acute lymphoblastic leukemia). The treatment is a three-year treatment. So, it’s eight months of very heavy chemo where you spend 100 days in the hospital. You’re hooked up to five, seven different IVs, and they punch as much poison into you as your body can handle,” Myatt said.
He said his treatment, which lasted two years, cost over $3 million.
“Which as an average general regular person that would devastate you and without access to good medical insurance, if the disease doesn’t kill you, the bills might,” Myatt said.
He still needs daily pills, shots and steroids, which ARE covered by his insurance, but other veterans aren’t as fortunate, which is why he says this bill is needed.
“The cancer I had would have killed me in eight weeks if I didn’t have health insurance,” Myatt said. “My first thing for this bill being passed is that veterans just have access to health care. That they’re just able to get in, see a doctor, get checked, have access.”
The bill was passed in the House in March and is currently in the Senate, where Linnington is optimistic it will pass.
President Biden has thrown his support behind the PACT Act.
His son Beau, who died of a rare brain cancer in 2015, had served in the Army near burn pits in Iraq.
The PACT Act needs at least 60 votes to pass in the Senate.
It had some bipartisan support when it passed the House, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has said he supports the bill.
If passed, the president hopes to sign it on Memorial Day.