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It's the biggest expansion of veteran's benefits since WWII, the tough part is letting veterans know about it

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Posted at 5:57 PM, Nov 28, 2022

AKRON, Ohio — The Sgt. Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 or the PACT Act is the biggest expansion of veteran's benefits since World War II. Signed into law by President Joe Biden in August, the act expands medical care and benefits for more than 5 million veterans, many of whom were exposed to toxic burn pits while serving in the U.S. military.

John Life of Akron served in the Marines from 2003 to 2007 and did two tours in Iraq. While overseas he noticed he was having trouble catching his breath.

"I talked to my corpsman and I was like ‘hey I'm having issues, it's like breathing,’” he said. ”He's like ‘oh yeah upper respiratory? ‘Yeah everyone's got it, you're fine.’”

Life said at the time he didn't think it was related to the burn pits he was often required to work in and even when he didn't pull burn pit duty “our burn pit was literally on the other side of a wall where I was living at. There was no escaping it."

In the years since, he's been bothered by constant bronchial issues, like pneumonia. He knows now it was likely tied to his time in Iraq and he also knows he is one of those veterans now eligible for expanded care and benefits if needed through the PACT Act. It was a fight led in part by fellow veteran Tim Hauser

"I actually started feeling sick before I came home,” said Hauser a Dessert Storm veteran who was exposed 30 years ago to the burn bits and burning oil fields. He fought the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for 25 years before getting his benefits approved.

"I didn't want another veteran to go through what I went through,” he said of the fight with the VA.

Along the way, he got the ear of the co-sponsor of the PACT Act Senator Sherrod Brown who joined veterans Monday in Akron to discuss the biggest hurdle they're facing right now making veterans aware of this and getting them to sign up now at VA.gov even if they're not experiencing symptoms.

“We've got to make sure that every veteran, every veteran's service organization, every county office knows that this benefit is available,” Brown said. “If you served your country in the military if you had any exposure in your mind, in your memory, any exposure to these burn pits, these football field sized burn pits where they burn everything from industrial waste to human waste to tires to everything else go and signup,” said Brown.

"Many men and women who served don't get symptoms for several years but if you're signed up then you'll automatically qualify in Parma or Akron or in Lake County or at the VA in Cleveland."

In addition to getting the word out, Tim Hauser points out another obstacle they face.

“Veterans are the most stubborn group of individuals you will ever meet. We don’t want to talk about our service, we don’t want to talk about our illnesses, we just want to be left alone.”

That’s why John Life said it’s up to veterans like him to spread the word to others.

"I have a friend of mine who just got off active duty and he's like oh no I'm good, it's like know it's going to affect you down the road man,” he said. “They need to stop playing around and get their benefits signed up for."