Albany veterans speak on PACT Act

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Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 7:40 PM EDT
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - On Monday, President Joe Biden is set to sign the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act. The White House says the new law will expand benefits for veterans exposed to certain toxins, going back three decades.

Commander of Albany’s American Legion Dan Brewer has advocated for this. It’s something his comrades and even himself have dealt with.

“When I went there, I had to assess the problems in all the environmental areas,” Brewer said. “And burn pits was one of them. There were a lot of burn pits and they were really, really bad practices they got into.”

Brewer served two tours in Iraq and two tours in Afghanistan as an environmental engineer.

Burn pits were a way of disposing of waste. Brewer said diesel and jet fuel were sometimes used to light them.

“They never segregated the waste, so hazardous stuff like petroleums and lubricants and plastic and medical waste and tires were all in there,” Brewer said. “And a lot of times, they burnt the really bad stuff at night when people are sleeping. So, they would breathe these fumes all night long.”

It’s something he says he attested as far back as active duty.

“I told the general the first time. I came back that this is gonna get us in trouble one day. And he told me to keep my thoughts to myself. And it did come back and haunt us,” Brewer said.

Brewer urges veterans to act as soon as possible by calling or going online.

“They made it very easy, but you do have to sign up if you want to get coverage,” he said. “And it also covers a spouse or people who have previously died from burn pit issues. They could have benefits.”

Brewer hopes those who can, will take advantage of the benefits by calling (1 800) 698-2411.

Vietnam Veteran Charles Nicholson recalled seeing Agent Orange being sprayed over him back in the 60s.

“58,000 Americans died in Vietnam in combat, but they probably killed 200,000 with Agent Orange,” he said. “They’re finding out more and more every day about different things that cause these problems.”

Nicholson has type two diabetes and neuropathy in his fingers, legs and toes. None of these illnesses run in his family.

“I didn’t think that much about it, cause they said, ‘Don’t worry about it, it won’t hurt you,’” Nicholson said. “In 2006, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which was presumably caused by Agent Orange.”

Brewer added he felt the impacts of burn pits directly during his time in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I have two spots on my lungs, so I’m affected by it,” Brewer said. “But I was around burn pits all the time. I even took precautions. I’ve known people who’ve had serious ailments and have now passed away because of it. And at the time, they were denied any coverage or benefits from the VA.”

Brewer said the number of people affected in the Middle Eastern wars could be in the millions.

Nicholson said Vietnam wasn’t the only place he was exposed to toxins.

“The Camp Lejeune water. I was stationed in Camp Lejeune. Fifteen out of 30 years, I was at Camp Lejeune. So, I drank the water, I bathed in it and everything else,” he said.

Nicholson said he’s seen far too many veterans die from toxic exposure.

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