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Local veterans react to the Senate approving the PACT Act

The Senate approved the PACT act bill on Tuesday by a bipartisan vote of 86-11. The PACT Act is now being passed on to President Biden for approval.

President Biden, who supports the PACT Act, is expected to sign it into law.

“I look forward to signing this bill, so that veterans and their families and caregivers impacted by toxic exposures finally get the benefits and comprehensive health care they earned and deserve,” Biden said.

The military used burn pits to dispose of such things as chemicals, cans, tires, plastics and medical and human waste.

Burn pit exposure accounts for 70 percent of disability claims denied by the VA due to lack of evidence.

With the approval of the PACT Act, organizations like the Riverside Department of Veterans Services may be able to expand the services they offer to their clients.

"There are approximately 118,000 veterans residing in Riverside County and about 70,000 veterans are gulf war veterans that may qualify for benefits under the PACT Act.  Additionally, locally there are about 40,000 Vietnam Veterans who may qualify under the PACT act for the new presumptive disabilities added for Agent Orange under the PACT Act," said Grant Gautsche, the Director of the Riverside Department of Veterans Services.

Local veteran and advisory board member of the Veterans Easy Access Program, or VEAP, Bill Young, has been working towards getting the PACT Act approved for his community for years.

As a serving member of Congressman Ruiz's Veterans Committee, Young has seen the direct impact that the prolonged process of passing the PACT Act bill has had on his fellow veterans.

 “ I think after that first time when they were told it wasn't passing, when we thought it would, there was a lot of anger," Young said.

Now that the bill has been approved, Young is hopeful that change is on the way for those who have been harmed by burn pits.

“I think at this stage, if that person served, and that person is suffering from this disease, arguing over how they got it is trivial. I think we owe them a debt of gratitude and a way of helping them out in their time of need," said Young.

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Tatum Larsen

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