RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) – Military personnel who have fought the government for medical and other benefits can get them immediately this Sunday. Veterans exposed to the wreckage of war zones will be granted medical insurance and disability benefits that they were previously ineligible for. A new law provides the funding to do so.
WCAX News first reported that these burns were making soldiers sick. When we joined them in war zones, we saw military members working and living near these pits. Now they may have won the battle over the burning pits, but they discovered that those fires were still burning.
“We were all proud to be back as veterans,” said Danny Pinsonault.
Pinsonneau wears his military cap like a badge of honor.
“It’s boring, but it’s my duty,” he said.
Pinsonault is a proudly decorated veteran who rose through the ranks to Sergeant First Class after 30 years in the military. He was sent to Kuwait in 2003, where he and his fellow engineers set up camps leading to Iraq as part of the global war on terrorism.
“You do what you pledge,” he said.
Pinsonneau led nearly 150 men and women there and brought them all home from the war. The Dorset man also brought home another, a brain tumor.
“This is a really difficult one to deal with,” he said.
Doctors first discovered it about a year ago. When they did, they were shocked by its size. Almost 20 years after the Pinsonoto was deployed, his doctors quickly pinpointed its cause as a burnt-out war zone.
“I didn’t know there was a hidden enemy,” Pinsonneau said.
The veteran is currently undergoing surgery, radiation, and another chemotherapy regimen at Foley Cancer Center in Rutland and is in the midst of a battle for his life. His wife, Sandy, and fellow veterinarian Garry Dufour takes him to the appointment.
“I get emotional,” said Dufour. “But I will be there for him.”
But Pinsonault knows it’s a losing battle. he is dying
“They gave us the worst news,” said Sandy Pinsonaught. “From that moment on, our lives changed.”
Doctors gave him three to four months to live.
“They give us the best possible care, but deep down they know where it all ends. It ends with my death,” said Danny Pinsonnaut. I got
Maj. Gen. Greg Knight, who leads the Vermont National Guard, said, “I think we are just now realizing the scope and what we were facing and what resulted from the exposure to the burns. I will,” he said.
Knight has seen the devastating effects of the wreckage firsthand. He himself contracted asthma, and many of his men and women, including Sergeants, fell ill or died. Major Mike Crumb and guard number two, Brig. General Mike Heston.
“I can list a dozen names off the top of my head of my colleagues who died too soon from dreadful diseases, lung cancer and brain tumors,” Knight said. “That’s not normal.”
We saw these burn marks when WCAX News was incorporated into the Vermont National Guard in Afghanistan. A large open-air garbage fire continued to burn day and night.
“They burned everything,” said Knight. “Tires, paint, lumber, medical waste, excrement, everything went into that burnt field. That’s how you get rid of stuff.
The soldiers inhaled the smoke that was filling the base, and when they had calmed down, they inhaled again.
“It’s disturbed by the vehicles and constant wind we’ve experienced,” Knight explained.
But for years, the Veterans Affairs Administration denied most allegations by members of the military that military personnel, such as Wes Black, who died of colon cancer said the pits of burns made them ill. The VA and the Department of Defense argued that more research was needed first.
“I think there was resistance because they didn’t want to pay for it,” said Senator-elect Peter Welch, D-Vermont. “They were told, ‘You can’t prove that this is connected to the service’ … It’s a lot like how Vietnam veterans had to fight about Agent Orange. ”
Welch spent years in Congress trying to pass a law that would force the VA to cover burn pit exposure. This year, the president signed his PACT Act into law, with bipartisan support, which significantly expands healthcare and other benefits for veterans. Various cancers and respiratory diseases are now automatically applied to military personnel who have served near the pit.
About 200,000 veterans have already applied under the PACT Act. The VA will start processing claims on Jan. 1, but started processing claims from 2,500 terminally ill veterans a few weeks ago.
Reporter Darren Perron: Is the VA prepared to handle the many claims that may arise as a result of the PACT Act?
Brett Rusch/VA: We… this is a long-term process. not sprint. It’s a marathon.
The VA recognizes that a spike in initial claims will result in an increased backlog, but is hiring staff to process those claims as quickly as possible.
“We’re going to make a big difference for a lot of people,” Rush said. “It wasn’t like that before.”
Veterans who previously refused benefits and veterans who may or may not have been exposed to burn pits are now encouraged to apply.
“What the VA is essentially trying to say in many, if not most, cases is that you are presumed exposed,” Rush said. “I am proud to go straight to the task of caring for veterans, skip all the questions and prove that to be the case.”
This is a major change in VA’s position on combustion pits. They have launched an extensive outreach program.
“People think this is a dramatic change,” Rush said.
But what the PACT Act has not done is to end the use of burn pits in conflict zones. Our investigation revealed that he still has seven burning pits in operation today.
Welch says putting those fires out is his top priority for this upcoming session.
“Burnpits are actively closed, but many of us in Congress want them closed completely,” Welch said.
“If you’re going to do the job, do it. And do it safely. And that’s where they let us down,” said Danny Pinsonaut.
Pinsonneau says he has no regrets for serving his country. And his final mission is to get as many veterans as possible to enroll under the PACT Act.
“A lot of people are affected by this,” he said.
He and Sandy celebrated their 40th anniversary. They know they are unlikely to be 41.
“I’m not afraid to be alone, but I’m afraid of him…I don’t want him to suffer,” said Sandy. I am more angry.”
Danny Pinsonault is one of several veterans who receive retirement benefits and 100% disability from the VA due to a terminal illness. They are waiting to hear how his wife, Sandy, will pass her PACT laws after he passes away.
Veterans can learn more about the PACT Act and file a claim at VA.gov/PACT.
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