MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In March, the US House of Representatives passed the Honoring Our PACT act seeking to provide health care and benefits for roughly two million veterans exposed to toxins. That is a number many believe just can’t be overlooked.
“There was no sanitation services. There was no trash pickup. Everything was burned,” said Jason Lederfine, a U.S. Army veteran and member of Collierville VFW Post 5066.
Lederfine served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The burn pit was 20 feet from my door. All of our garbage was burned, all of sensitive things. We had to burn paperwork, feces and things like that,” said Lederfine. “We really didn’t have anything but toilets that were made by the unit with a big barrel full of diesel fuel. I had to take a stick, stir it around, so that it would all get burned up. The fumes were going into your face.”
Lederfine was breathing in black smoke with all kinds of toxins.
“Up to 30% of my lung capacity was lost because of breathing in that stuff,” said Lederfine.
He is one of millions of veterans exposed to toxins during active duty.
Lederfine, like many others, are fighting to get the Honoring Our PACT Act passed.
The act would provide health care and benefits to veterans affected by toxic exposure.
Patrick Murray is the Director of National Legislative Service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
“We’ve learned the hard way what happened to our Vietnam generation,” said Murray. “We don't want to repeat the same mistakes with the post-9/11 generation.”
The bill already passed in the House, but still must go forth in the Senate.
If passed, it would establish a registry for exposed veterans and a formal advisory committee on toxic exposure.
“It's should not be upon the veteran to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that their illnesses and ailments are due to service, what we're asking this bill to pass to take that burden off of veterans and give them the positive association of toxic exposure,” said Murray. “Make sure that VA is given more resources, more personnel to actually review claims, also it money to automate some of their systems.”
The support would come in phases based on illness and by operation or wars.
“Your state senator from Tennessee asked if, by passing the pact act, we will be breaking the promise to our nation's veterans. To that, we say that we've already broken the promise to our nation's veterans,” said Murray. “Some folks in Congress are concerned about the cost responses. This is a cost of war.”
It is a cost that for many of our heroes, has come at a permanent price.
“I don’t know what it’s going to do to me in the long run. Is it going to shorten my life? Am I going to have cancer? I think that’s why this act is so important,” said Lederfine.
Veterans who fought in WWII were exposed to a variety of chemicals.
Between 1939 to 1945, vets endured loud and harmful sounds from bombs, guns, and a variety of machinery.
There was ionizing radiation.
During this time in Japan, nuclear weapons tests were underway.
We can’t forget about mustard gas and cold injuries.
For those not necessarily in the field, they dealt with occupational hazards that involve paint, machinery and more.
During the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1975, vets had to encounter different toxins.
They still had occupational and noise hazards, but in addition to that, herbicides used to destroy foliage and crops, Hepatitis C, and liver fluke infection.
This is what researchers are looking into as a possible but unproven link between veterans who ate raw fish and a rare cancer.
Now, the latest war, Operation Enduring Freedom, had exposures of its own in Afghanistan.
The list gets more extensive.
The chemical exposures have drastically increased.
Service men and women dealt with dust which can cause breathing issues, infectious diseases, and toxic embedded fragments.
Those fragments occur when metal objects can’t be removed from the body.
They also experienced traumatic brain injuries, exposure to malaria, cold injuries, burn pits, uranium used in military tank armor and some bullets, rabies, and heat injuries.