Federal measure helps South Florida veterans get help
There is a new way for many veterans to get help for symptoms they can’t always see but feel every day.
Symptoms from burn pits in veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are getting a new look courtesy of the PACT Act.
According to the Veterans administration, burn pits were the method our military used to get rid of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Trenches, some dug as large as 75 yards long, were used to dispose of waste by setting it on fire and controlling the flames within the pit.
Veterans like Johhny Castro, a 25 year military veteran, smelled the smoke almost every day during his tour in Iraq with the United States Army.
“For me you know it’s like going to the beach and going to a bonfire. But this, it was a continuous bonfire,” said Castro.
He said anything form equipment, medical waste to, “Anything that could be burned was being burned,”
In 2006, Castro had a defining moment.
Castro said, “I realize that, with my wife being there, I realized there was black sook coming out of my nose and coming out of my mouth as well.”
Castro went to the VA for help.
Now, with the PACT Act, VA help is changing.
Florida has the third largest veteran population in the country and many call south Florida home.
West Palm Beach VA Medical Center Executive Director Cory Price said, “The PACT Act is the biggest increase in veteran eligibility in recent history. It’s monumental.”
Passed in August, the act expands veterans health care to those not eligible before, exposed to an environmental hazard or toxin, like burn pits.
While sometimes hard to directly link illnesses like cancer to burn pit exposure, the PACT act requires the VA to presume sicknesses could have been related.
This ensures the veterans don't have prove symptoms were caused by burn pits, making it easier for treatment.
Price said this will help thousands of veterans here in south Florida.
Price lived it himself, flying helicopters over burn pits in Operation Iraqi Freedom
“You could see the burn pit from 30 miles away. So you would just aim the helicopter toward the burn pit and you knew how to get home,” said Price.
Now, every appointment at the VA medical includes a set of questions to see if you've been exposed to things like burn pits....and streamlines treatment options from there.
Price said, “Don’t wait, if you think you’ve may have been exposed, fill a claim now, you can do that immediately.”
It's something Castro hopes can save lives before it's too late.
“Because they’re not going to have the lifespan that their parents may have had or their other buddies they deployed with,” said Castro.
The PACT Act also includes increased VA attention to Vietnam era veterans exposed to agent orange and Camp Lejeune veterans exposed to water contamination.
Scripps Only Content 2022