Veterans celebrate major win as PACT Act passes in U.S. Senate

It was a huge victory for millions of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits this week after a bill enhancing health care and disability benefits passed a final hu
Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 6:38 PM EDT
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WESTFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - It was a huge victory for millions of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits this week after a bill enhancing health care and disability benefits passed a final hurdle in the U.S. Senate.

The bill has been a years-long effort begun by veterans who believe the burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan are responsible for respiratory problems and other illnesses they have experienced after returning home.

Western Mass News spoke with Senator John Velis who has been a strong advocate for this bill, and we also talked to one local veteran who shared what the passing of this bill means to him.

“This is huge,” said U.S. Army veteran Eric Segundo, who served in Iraq. “This is a life changer for many veterans, many families that have been waiting.”

On Tuesday, the United States Senate approved the PACT Act bill which enhances health care for millions of veterans who have been exposed to toxic burn pits.

Veterans across America camped out at the U.S. Capitol since the vote took place, including Massachusetts Veteran of Foreign Wars Council member, Eric Segundo.

“Going down to D.C., that was a historical event that was going on,” Segundo told us. “Thirteen years of waiting for this bill to come to the floor, and seeing so many veterans and family members that were out there for days just motivated us to get on a plane and head down there.”

Western Mass News spoke with Senator John Velis, a fellow veteran who has been a strong advocate for this legislation.

“This is a huge deal,” Senator Velis said. “It’s the largest expansion of care in the VA’s history and it just happens to coincide, which is so outstanding, with what we just did in Massachusetts last week as part of the SPEED Act leading on this burn pit issue.”

We asked Senator Velis to explain what burn pits are for those who may not know.

“They are essentially pits that you burn everything from plastic to human feces to batteries, just because there is no proper way on a lot of the remote bases to get rid of garbage,” he explained.

He told us that burning those items produces harmful toxins that veterans breathe in.

“It’s causing a lot of veterans to get sick, whether it’s cardiac things, pulmonary things, all different types of diseases, so what the feds just did, which is really important,” Senator Velis said.

He added that there is still more work to be done to ensure veterans, who have been exposed to burn pits overseas, get compensated.

“Gaining awareness to get, at least on our level, Massachusetts veterans registered in this VA database and registry, so now they can get their compensation because we know that the number of veterans that have registered in this database is nowhere near the number of people exposed,” Senator Velis told us.

The PACT Act will now head to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.