ROBSTOWN, Texas — A local couple whose cause has received national attention had a really good week last week.
Le Roy and Rosie Torres started Burn Pits 360, a nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans suffering from the effect of toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The wheels of justice are moving, it’s been slowly moving, but the momentum continues,” said Le Roy Torres.
For twelve years, the couple has worked to get those wheels moving.
“Just thinking of the last 12 years and what I personally have endured with my health due to toxic exposure,” Torres said.
Torres suffers from constrictive bronchiolitis and toxic encephalopathy. Both conditions are linked to his exposure. Torres was a captain in the U.S. Army when he served in Iraq. When he came home, he was so sick that he wasn’t allowed to continue as a trooper for the Department of Public Safety.
He's one of more than 200,000 on the Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs’ register of exposed veterans.
Many of those veterans have already lost their lives.
“As you walk in our headquarters, you see those faces,” Torres said. “That’s just some that have passed on in their 20’s and 30’s, a young age.”
After years of fighting, however, a win. Last week, President Biden mentioned the cause during his State of the Union Address. Two days later, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3967, the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins (PACT) Act, comprehensive legislation to help exposed veterans.
“After years of building systemic momentum, we finally passed something in the House, that’s hard to do,” said Rosie Torres, Executive Director of Burn Pits 360.
“Over twelve years of work from the advocates, from the families impacted,” she said. “Many have buried their loved ones in the process.”
Those advocates spread the message of toxic exposure, but one voice brought with it a national spotlight; Jon Stewart, who fought so hard for first responders exposed to toxins on 9/11.
“This was a way bigger… not a bigger issue than 9/11, but a different issue in the sense of the entities involved,” Rosie Torres said.
Since 2019, Stewart has advocated for burn pits victims. He also had Rosie as a panelist on the first episode of his new AppleTV+ show, “The Problem with Jon Stewart”.
“Jon Stewart has been a tremendous advocate, voice, and a friend,” said Le Roy Torres.
And as the fight moves to the Senate, Le Roy and Rosie are hopeful, but know there's still a long way to go.
“You know, we don’t have victory until the president signs a bill,” Rosie said.
More Veterans In Focus stories are available here, along with resources for local veterans.