Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
A new campaign ad from President Joe Biden released today will highlight the Sgt 1st Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act, legislation that expands health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals while on active duty. Biden signed the Act into law in August 2022.
Viewed by the Capital-Star ahead of wider release today, the spot titled “Proud” features Le Roy Torres of Robstown, Texas, an Army veteran who has suffered health problems as a result of exposure to toxic burn pits while he was on active duty. Torres says in the spot that he enlisted when he was 17, and served seven years active duty.
“I was exposed to toxic burn pits in Iraq and will always have health problems because of it,” Torres says, adding that when he got home he could not get the health care he needed. He and his wife Rosie say in the spot they could not get help from the government until Biden was elected. “He’s a military father. He saw us, and he got something done for us,” Torres says.
The PACT Act provides that roughly two dozen chronic conditions and illnesses are presumed to be caused by breathing toxins from open burn pits or exposure to other hazards, including Agent Orange and radiation.
The act is named for Heath Robinson, a medic with the Ohio National Guard who was exposed to toxic smoke from burn pits during a tour of duty in Iraq. The military used burn pits to dispose of a wide variety of hazardous materials, including pesticides, fuels, rubber, medical waste, human remains, computer parts and chemical weapons.
Robinson was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer ten years after his deployment, and was denied medical benefits by the Veterans Administration because he was not able to prove his cancer was caused by burn pit exposure. Robinson died in 2020 at age 39.
According to Stars and Stripes, between 2007 and 2020, the VA denied 78% of claims from veterans for illnesses related to burn pit exposure.
Treatment for veterans exposed to burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq became a personal issue for Biden, who spoke of seeing “burn pits the size of football fields” during trips to Iraq as a U.S. senator and as vice president, when he signed the PACT Act last year. The president has questioned whether his son Beau’s death from brain cancer in 2015 was a result of exposure to burn pits during his time in Iraq as part of the Delaware National Guard.
“I’ve seen President Biden’s steadfast commitment to our country’s veterans firsthand,” U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a combat veteran and Biden-Harris 2024 campaign co-chair, said in a statement.. “Our nation’s veterans deserve more than lip service from Washington – they deserve to be honored with real action from their elected officials. President Biden uniquely understands what veterans and their families need and has a proven record of delivering for them.”
The campaign ad will air over Veterans Day weekend, including in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia markets during the Penn State game on Saturday, and the Pittsburgh and Milwaukee markets ahead of the Packers—Steelers game on Sunday, as well as on national broadcast and cable networks. It’s part of a larger, $25 million ad campaign to reach voters in battleground states, including Pennsylvania, that the Biden-Harris 2024 campaign announced in August.
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said Monday that veterans’ care in the United States set all- time records in fiscal year 2023, due largely to the Biden administration’s expansion of benefits for those who became ill from burn pit exposure.
On Friday, the Biden administration announced it was further expanding some veterans’ benefits, including directing the VA to make all veterans affected by burn pit exposure eligible for expanded benefits by early next year, rather than phased in over 10 years as the PACT Act originally required.
Veterans can contact the VA for benefits information or register for a toxic exposure screening at VA.gov or by calling 1-800-MyVA411.
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