Cumberland County veterans are applauding and expressing enthusiasm for the expanded healthcare now offered to former service members. It's a result of the PACT Act, a bill broadening coverage for environment exposures that went into affect on Saturday.
Veterans tell ABC11 that this broadened healthcare coverage is years in the making. They describe it as a hard-won victory for millions who say their health has suffered after life in the service.
"It takes some of the burden of proof off to me."
ABC11 first spoke with Commander Jim Morris of VFW 10630 back in August. He now says he's finally getting pulmonary tests and doctors appointments for his respiratory issues because of the PACT Act. He says he is grateful more veterans will get the care they need.
"There was just a whole host of stuff that nobody wanted to recognize, you know, because in many instances, the symptoms didn't show up until months, years, or maybe even a decade later. So it's nice to not have to go through the frustration of having to figure out: 'how did I get to where I'm at?"
Signed in August, the PACT makes it easier for veterans to track over 20 illnesses that might stem from being exposed to burn pits, chemicals and other toxins. Veterans no longer have to prove their illnesses that are caused by those exposures are as a result of their time in the military.
"There are 20 or more presumptives that are associated with toxic exposures," said Dr. June Roberts of the Fayetteville VA Mid-Atlantic Coastal Healthcare System. "Many of them are very common: asthma, chronic sinusitis, chronic rhinitis, certain cancers of the neck, pancreatic cancer, melanoma, and other disorders that they might have been diagnosed with that now they have free healthcare access for."
Burn pits were used by the military during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to discard of waste. The health issues veterans complained were linked to the practice had sewn distrust between them and the government. However, Vernon Jacks of Veterans Helping Veterans says its time to mend that relationship, and that no one should miss out on the medical attention they deserve.
"Let's start trusting the government. If not the government, let's trust the VA system," Jacks said. "Let's start trusting them because you've earned the care of the VA system. Use it. And for those of you that are seeking disability, if you don't know how to find it or where, find somebody that can help you."
To learn more about how to take advantage of the expanded healthcare coverage, veterans are encouraged to visit the Veteran Affairs website, talk to a doctor and enroll now.