SOUTHEAST NC — An expansion of medical benefits and services for veterans exposed to toxins was signed into law by President Joe Biden on August 10.
With bipartisan support, the Honoring our PACT Act of 2022 took more than a year to go through the legislative process.
READ MORE: ‘9 senators away’: Jon Stewart argues for Senator Burr’s vote on burn pit veterans bill
More than 3.5 million veterans will now be eligible for immediate benefits if they suffer from one of 23 health conditions, including certain cancers and respiratory illnesses. The services — which include a $2,000 monthly stipend and additional access to loans and bursaries — extend to survivors of veterans and their families.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act has been incorporated into the Honoring Our PACT Act. This paves the way for veterans exposed to contaminated water at the North Carolina base to sue the government and recover damages resulting from its adverse health effects.
Attorney Harry Blalock, a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and founding member of Blalock LLC, announced he would offer his services and business support to the more than one million affected veterans. from Camp Lejeune to Jacksonville, 60 miles north of Wilmington. It offers free case assessments for affected veterans.
“As veterans, we have given so much of our lives in the service of justice with courage and honor,” Blalock said in a press release. “Our mission of serving veterans is the sole focus of our firm.”
The law provides compensation to the families of Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune, as well as the civilians and personnel who served there. Some people living on the base between 1953 and 1987 developed kidney cancer, multiple myeloma, leukemia and other forms of cancer after discovering that drinking water contained a variety of toxic compounds.
Of those affected, only 25% of the 5,792 toxicity claims filed between January 2011 and June 2019 were approved by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Veterans Administration will now accept all eligible applicants without requiring a “burden of proof” that they have been exposed. Many veterans have been denied medical coverage, with denial letters stating they could not prove their health issues were related to exposure to toxic substances while on duty.
While the bill applies to veterans who served overseas, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who inhaled smoke from burning fireplaces, it also helps those who served in the Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange.
Burn pits were often dug overseas, massive holes sometimes up to 10 acres wide, for soldiers to light fires from plastics and toxic materials to body parts and ammunition. Long-term exposure to residual smoke has led many people to suffer serious after-effects once they return home.
Introduced in June 2021 by Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) and guided by input from veterans exposed to toxic substances, Honoring our PACT Act has had strong support from comedian and political commentator Jon Stewart, front – custody of his plea.
The bill passed the House (256-174) on March 3; Representative David Rouzer voted “no”.
Stewart traveled to Wilmington on April 13 and held a rally downtown that led to the Murchison Building, which houses the offices of Sen. Richard Burr. He was one of nine Republican votes needed to pass legislation over the Senate hurdle. At the last minute, Burr voted yes and helped the law become law.
Veterans have spent the past few months protesting outside the White House; the bill passed the Senate (84-14) on June 16 with 11 Republicans voting against its passage, including North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.
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