Newly passed law offers relief to local veterans suffering the effects of toxic burn pits

ROCHESTER, N.Y. Controversy over the effects of toxic burn pits on our nation’s veterans was front and center Friday.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand stopped by the Rochester VA to highlight what a newly passed law will do to help address this growing problem. The PACT Act finally passed last August. We all know getting anything through Congress these days can be an uphill climb, but for Sen. Gillibrand and supporters of the PACT Act, failure was not an option.

After months of contentious battles in Congress, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand says relief to veterans suffering the effects of toxic burn pits has finally arrived.

Gillibrand: We’ve been fighting for this monumental legislation for years and while it has been a long hard fight it’s been even more difficult for those who have been exposed to the toxic substances during their military services, which is causing their illnesses.

Under the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act, the VA must offer all enrolled veterans who are concerned about toxic exposure screenings and resources to provide additional help if needed.

Gillibrand: I’ve heard from many veterans, service members, and their families, who have been raising alarms about these toxic exposures. So working with advocates and strong coalitions of services organizations, we wrote a bill to cover burn pit survivors.

This is a promise that Shawn Defries, associate medical center director of the Finger Lakes VA Healthcare System, says he intends to keep.

Defries: Since the PACT Act has become law we have been actively reaching out to our local veterans, enrolling them, completing screenings and exams, and ensuring these veterans are able to receive these benefits.

Defries says coverage is not limited to veterans of recent wars but any war where a serviceman or woman may have been in contact with toxic fumes.

Defries: We have already reached hundreds of area veterans and we are working each and every day to reach hundreds more. We have several events already on the calendar over the next month to include Bath and Elmira, New York, and Wellsboro, Pennsylvania.

This is an outreach that Sen. Gillibrand says wouldn’t be possible without making veteran care a daily focus.

Gillibrand: Now millions of veterans who were exposed to these toxins can receive the healthcare they have already earned. As of February 300,000 claims and have approved about 60,000 of them so far, providing care now and well into the future.