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Senate vote puts burn pits legislation on the cusp of passage

Senate vote puts burn pits legislation on the cusp of passage
Posted at 10:04 PM, Jun 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-16 23:27:00-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — For 12 years now, Rosie Torres of Robstown has worked tirelessly to support veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — like her husband — who got sick after being exposed to burn pits.

With no access to landfills, the military burned all trash during those wars including items that gave off toxic smoke like tires, batteries, and medical waste.

Captain Leroy Torres spent a year near a burn pit in Iraq that his wife says was 10 acres in size.

When he came home in 2008, doctors diagnosed him constrictive bronchiolitis, which left him short of breath and prone to respiratory infections.

Without definitive proof that burn pits caused the condition and dozens of others, the Department of Veterans Affairs dismissed 70 percent of disability claims related to of exposure of them.

That may be about to change thanks in large part to the advocacy campaign Burn Pits 360 that the Torres's have led.

“I’m trying to take it all in," Rosie Torres said. "It’s a lot of emotion — a lot of reflecting on how we — you know, a family out of Robstown, Texas, decided to take the injustice that we were faced with and turn that into one of the biggest movements in the history of veterans legislation in toxic exposure."

The United States Senate passed that legislation Thursday that would expand disability benefits and health care for veterans who may have been harmed by their exposure to burn pits.

The Honoring Our PACT ACT now heads to the House of Representatives, and if it passes there, President Joe Biden says he'll sign it into law.

Rosie says she's hearing that it all could happen by Wednesday, and until then, she's thinking about how far her campaign has come.

“Just reflecting back on all the things that we did and organized and made happen," she said. "It’s been an honor really, to know that we got this far with the resources that we had."

The bill would also establish 31 new VA health care facilities around the country to keep up with what could be millions of veterans of the two wars coming forward.

Each one with potential concerns about exposure to toxins from burn pits.

If the bill gets final approval, Rosie is hopeful that she and her husband can attend the ceremony.

“We’re just waiting to see like what the plans are — if we’re going to be invited — if we’re going to be out there for the signing," she said. "Hopefully, that’s the case. We want to represent the Coastal Bend. So we’ll see."