Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz held a conference to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the PACT Act, which he helped author. It expands health care for millions of post-9/11 veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances on the battlefield.
Thousands of veterans across the country have benefited from the PACT Act in its first year like Navy veteran Dean Richards.
"There's so many veterans that need the help," said Richards. "Up until I heard about the PACT Act, I didn't think there'd ever be anything I could do to help myself... I really appreciate what they have done to help the veterans."
According to Ruiz's office, the PACT Act benefited more than 1,101 veterans in his District and more than 25,000 nationwide. Because of the PACT Act, Veterans Affairs has approved nine out of 10 claims.
"The biggest obstacle, in general, was the VA and the Department of Defense who would deny that there was a link between breathing harmful toxic chemicals from burn pits to having lung disease and cancers," said Ruiz.
Ruiz said he continues the fight in the name of local vet Jennifer Kepner who died of cancer after being exposed to burn pits. He honored her husband, Ben, and son with the framed law with the president's signature.
"My wife was a fighter, a fighter overseas, a fighter through her disease, and a fighter through getting her benefits," said Ben.
With Ruiz’s provisions, the PACT Act added 23 categories of illness from exposure to toxic burn pits. He said it's the most expansive access to health care for veterans in generations.
"We made the impossible happen and got this bill signed. And I did it all in memory and under the name and banner of Jennifer Kepner," said Ruiz.
Anyone who files a claim by this coming Monday will be able to collect payments retroactive to last year if the claim is approved.
News Channel 3 has been tracking this story in-depth for years. In 2017, John White spoke with local veteran Jennifer Kepner who believed that toxic burn pits caused her to develop pancreatic cancer. She died from her cancer that same year. Her story inspired Ruiz to help write the bill.