“Far too many of our veterans have been struggling”: Local vet sees hope in burn pit bill
WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - On Tuesday, a long-awaited bill known as the PACT Act passed the Senate after Republicans blocked it the week before, making it easier for veterans exposed to dangerous chemicals overseas to get help.
“All in all, this is a tremendously victorious day for veterans,” said Disabled American Veterans Benefit Protection Leader John Willman.
After public outcry, enough Republican senators changed their votes for it to pass 86 to 11.
“I’m glad that these colleagues, most of them, came to their senses this week, but it was totally unnecessary,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin.
The bill makes it easier for veterans exposed to radiation, Agent Orange or burn pits, used to dispose of everything from machinery to human and medical waste, to get treatment for conditions that are presumed to result from those conditions.
“All of the service organizations, I know my own – disabled vets – were very passionate about making this their number one legislative priority this year,” Willman said.
Baldwin voiced her support for the cause.
“Far too many of our veterans have been struggling with illnesses and harm caused by that and now they will be presumed to have had their illnesses because of their service,” she said.
Willman’s own exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam has caused 3 cancers, 5 heart surgeries and kidney disease, but he had to fight for the cause to be recognized.
“It’s frustrating when there’s nothing in your family history, and you come down with this stuff. All of a sudden you find you’re the same as 90,000 other guys. And they just turn a deaf ear to you,” Willman said.
He says hundreds of millions of gallons of the poison would run out of the Mekong river surrounding U.S. ships.
“They would suck up that water to use for cooking, bathing, drinking, coffee- which Navy guys drink almost like air,” he said.
Now his fellow veterans don’t have to go to court to prove they were at risk.
“Those that can prove that they were in that area and then were subject to that will then be taken care of without this unbelievable battle with the VA,” Willman said.
Despite his 55-year battle for recognition, Willman did give praise for the VA’s efforts in the past few years. Newer facilities are offering not only physical care but mental and holistic healing and making it easier for veterans to get multiple treatments in one location.
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