Families optimistic about rollout of new law expanding aid for veterans exposed to toxins

WASHINGTON D.C. — Veterans suffering because of toxic exposures in war zones now have more support.

President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act Wednesday morning, which expands health care and disability funding for veterans exposed to burn pits overseas.

Dozens of families were invited to the White House for the ceremony, including the Barbosas.

“I know my dad is a fighter and I know he wants me to be a fighter as well,” said son of a veteran, Walker Barbosa.

After serving 23 years in the army, Barbosa’s father, Rafael, is fighting stage 4 colon cancer likely caused by burn pits. The 13-year-old said he is hopeful the new law spares other kids from dealing with this uncertainty.

“The last time we FaceTimed he told me that he loved me and he’s proud of me, and no matter what, he would be with me,” said Barbosa.

The PACT Act expands and extends health care access for veterans with toxic exposures and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War and Post-9/11 eras.

In addition, if veterans have one of more than twenty listed conditions, the Department of Veterans Affairs will assume their service caused it.

Before this law, veterans and their families say it was a challenging trying to prove this connection.

“You had to prove that your cancer came from the burn pit, which is obviously difficult because it’s not like your cancer cells say ‘I came from a burn pit in Iraq’,” said Amanda Barbosa, the wife of veteran Rafael Barbosa.

There’s some concern over how quickly survivors will get these benefits, but the VA is already encouraging veterans to apply and it has set up this website to help.

Danielle Robinson, whose husband is the namesake of the law, said it’s crucial for the agency to get it right.

“Secretary McDonough looked at me in the eye and told me today that we will get this right and we will take care of these veterans,” said Robinson, widow of Army Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson.

It’s a promise she wants every veteran to hear.

“Please go back, it should be different, it’s going to be different,” said Robinson. “Please go back and sign up and get the help that you need, that’s why we fought for you guys.”

The VA secretary says the agency won’t stop until every veteran and survivor gets the support they need from these new benefits.

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