‘Don’t wait’: Veteran exposed to burn pits now on track to get care after PACT Act enacted

U.S. Navy veteran John Roberts urges veterans to get help

For the nearly 3 million military veterans exposed to burn pits, a new law is now making it easier for them to get care without the burden of proving their illness was caused by their service. KSAT's Camelia Juarez spoke to a veteran who is now on track to get the care he needs.

SAN ANTONIO – A new law allows nearly 3.5 million veterans exposed to burn pits to get health care through the VA without proving their illness was a result of their service in the military.

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins, or PACT, Act was enacted last week, making it easier to get treatment caused by toxic exposure, like burn pits.

When U.S. Navy veteran John Roberts was serving in Iraq in 2005, he would throw trash into a burn pit.

“It could be a big piece of property, basically, of just trash that’s on fire. And that’s where we throw most of our trash. It’s constantly burning. It’s like it never stops,” Roberts said.

While working, he was constantly inhaling smoke and unknown chemicals.

“It didn’t smell very good when I went in there, but that was your only option,” Roberts said.

The effects on his health have been long-lasting. Roberts said he struggles to breathe and run as he used to before serving.

“It’s not something that’s, you know, been affecting me right now. I’m worried about later,” Roberts said.

He’s concerned about cancer or a chronic lung condition.

“I have friends that have had cancer. So those are the things that I worry about with my friends and me,” Roberts said.

Now that the PACT Act has been enacted, Veterans Affairs will “presume” cancers, bronchitis, and asthma, to name a few illnesses, were caused by their service in the military.

“That’s why I’m so glad this got passed because now there’s so many things that are all the doors that are open for all the things that could go wrong in the future,” Roberts said.

Depending on where and when someone served, a veteran can automatically qualify for care. Experts familiar with VA health care claims say it can take time to process since the law just passed.

“Don’t wait. Go on the benefits. Put in your claims. If you can’t figure out how to do a claim, come to a VFW. There’s somebody here that’ll help you out,” Roberts said.

According to the VA website, additional burn pit and toxic exposure presumptive conditions were added after the PACT Act was enacted.

These cancers are now presumptive:

  • Brain cancer
  • Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
  • Glioblastoma
  • Head cancer of any type
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lymphatic cancer of any type
  • Lymphoma of any type
  • Melanoma
  • Neck cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Reproductive cancer of any type
  • Respiratory (breathing-related) cancer of any type

These illnesses are now presumptive:

  • Asthma that was diagnosed after service
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Chronic rhinitis
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
  • Emphysema
  • Granulomatous disease
  • Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
  • Pleuritis
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis

According to the VA website, these locations and time periods have been found to have burn pits or toxic exposures.

On or after Sept. 11, 2001, in any of these locations:

  • Afghanistan
  • Djibouti
  • Egypt
  • Jordan
  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • Uzbekistan
  • Yemen
  • The airspace above any of these locations

On or after August 2, 1990, in any of these locations:

  • Bahrain
  • Iraq
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Somalia
  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE)
  • The airspace above any of these locations

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About the Authors:

Camelia Juarez is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2022. Camelia comes from a station in Lubbock, Texas. Now, she is back in her hometown. She received her degree from Texas State University. In her free time, Camelia enjoys thrifting, roller-skating and spending time with family and friends.