(NewsNation) — Surrounded by veterans sickened by toxins from their time in uniform and families of those loved ones who died after burn pit exposure, President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act into law Wednesday.
Burn pits are big, open air pits used to burn everything from human waste to chemicals to amputated body parts. The law expands help for those veterans exposed to toxins. It’s expected to help as many 5 million veterans across generations from burn pit smoke in Afghanistan and Iraq to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.
Several veterans have spent years advocating for the legislation, sometimes walking the halls of Congress and sleeping on the steps of the Capitol while lawmakers considered the proposal. Now, the law is being called the largest expansion of care in VA history. It will spend nearly $300 billion over the next 10 years and add 23 respiratory conditions from illnesses to cancers to a list within the VA, so veterans will not have to prove their illnesses were caused by exposure to burn pits or other toxic exposures to get the help they need.
In the video above, retired Army Captain Le Roy Torres speaks about the long journey leading to the new law.
“That moment was monumental. It was a monumental victory. But at the same time, I was thinking of the conversations that I had with those that are no longer here,” Torres said. “One example is my sergeant major, who passed away in 2014. His last words to me were, ‘Sir, do not give up on this fight. You will be our voice when we are no longer here.’ And as I was listening to President Biden deliver his remarks and just assuring that we have worked together, that promise was fulfilled.”
Torres says the VA website has already been updated and veterans can begin to file claims now.