‘I broke down, I cried’: Veterans celebrate passage of PACT Act
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - The U.S. Senate approved a measure Tuesday to provide health care and benefits for millions of veterans injured by exposure to toxins from toxic water between the 50s and 80s.
The measure impacts veterans who served at Camp Lejeune right here in the East, as well as those who faced burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For many veterans, the PACT Act passing has been a long time coming. They had no problem sharing all the hardships in life that’ll be helped with its passing.
“I just, I broke down, I cried,” former reserve Marine Curtis Crawford said.
“It was like cheers, you know?” said VFW Post 9133 Commander Wendy Silvera added.
The PACT Act included the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, and with it now passed in both the U.S. House and Senate, burn pit and toxic-water-exposed veterans like Silvera and Crawford say they see the light at the end of the tunnel for increased benefits.
After approval, Silvera says the bill will provide compensation for more than 90% of the veterans at VFW Post 9133.
Veterans across the country are impacted. There are those who suffered various physical health problems believed to be from exposure to hazardous environments like burn pits in Iraq, and those negatively affected by toxic water at Camp Lejeune.
“Breathing issues is definitely a major one,” Veterans Services’ Jalyssa Nava said.
“Some of our patrons come in here, they don’t smoke, and they cough like a smoker, it’s like COPD,” Silvera said.
Crawford shared why the news of the bill’s passage affected him so immensely.
“I’ve lost everything, I lost a home, a business, my ability to work.”
More than $61 million from the PACT Act will go toward building a larger veterans outpatient clinic near the City of Jacksonville.
While the bill addresses physical health, veterans and veteran resources explain that physical health problems can eventually take a toll on their mental health as well.
“I have no problem with saying it. I deal with mental health issues, with PTSD and MST,” Nava said.
“If I’m diagnosed with cancer or something that could be a terminal illness, what kind of anxiety in potential depression and what kind of side effects does that create in a person’s life?” Christopher Hunt, Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic director asked.
Veterans services and the VFW say the next step is educating veterans on the claims process in order to make sure that they are ready to navigate the legal process of filing a claim through the PACT Act.
Crawford, who has worked to lobby for this bill, says close to 3 million veterans will qualify for compensation from the PACT Act.
Onslow County is part of a congressional district with the fourth largest military veteran population. The bill received an 86-11 vote with Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis voting against the bill.
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