Veterans urged to sign up for hard-fought pit bill – BG Independent News

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

Zach Migura was one of countless servicemen responsible for staffing military fire pits during times of duty. While serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, he took his shifts to stir up fuel and human waste – a common waste disposal practice at military sites.

Now, Migura is accused of recruiting Wood County veterans who may have been injured by exposure to toxic burning fireplaces.

As executive director of the Wood County Veterans Services Office, Migura estimates there are thousands of veterans and survivors in the county who are eligible for the Promise to Treat Disabilities Act of 2022. complete toxins (PACT).

“We know it’s going to be a lot,” Migura said. “Calls come quickly. We are all preparing for the tidal wave.

Migura was one of several veterans and local advocates called in for a Friday morning roundtable with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Brown lobbied for years to pass the fireplaces legislation. He is now meeting with veterans and leaders across the state to discuss how to let veterans know that help is now available.

“I really want to hear your thoughts on how to reach out to veterans,” Brown said as he sat around a table with veterans at VFW Post 1148 and American Legion Post 45 in Bowling Green.

US Senator Sherrod Brown meets with veterans and local advocates at the VFW and American Legion post in Bowling Green.

Brown acknowledged that the burn pit bill took far too long to pass — three decades later than it should have been. Too many Conservative lawmakers said the bill was too expensive, he said. Brown called this argument “morally bankrupt”.

“It’s never too expensive to send them abroad, but it’s too expensive to take care of them when they come back home,” he said, questioning the logic.

Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn credited Brown with not giving up.

“Senator Brown was doing the right thing for the right reason,” Wasylyshyn said. “He crossed the finish line.”

Millions of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the first Gulf War, the Vietnam War and a multitude of smaller deployments around the world between these campaigns, are now eligible for a expanded access to health care and disability benefits related to chemical combustion smoke. , paint, medical and human waste, ammunition, oil, plastics and rubber.

Brown, in turn, credited veterans like Migura and Tim Hauser for not giving up the fight.

Hauser, an Air Force veteran who served during the Desert Storm, advocated for the burn pit bill for two years.

” We are sick. We are dying,” Hauser said. “We are recognized now. Now we know our families are going to be taken care of. They will be able to pay for our funeral. They will be able to send our children to university.

US Senator Sherrod Brown discusses the burn pit bill with veteran Tim Hauser.

It is expected to total nearly $228 billion in new spending over the next decade, which will require the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire hundreds of new workers and open several new medical sites to handle the increased workload.

Hauser, who uses a walker and oxygen, said the PACT law nearly faltered when GOP senators decided the legislation would cost too much.

“At one point it looked like the bill was going to die early in the summer,” he said.

Jon Stewart joined veterans in rallying the nation to insist that veterans are not left behind.

Hauser heard those same GOP senators say their emails and phones were inundated with messages. “The phone lines were down for a while,” he said.

“This wouldn’t have happened” without the support of citizens, Brown said.

The legislation extends services to any veteran potentially exposed to toxic fumes from burning fireplaces – and their families. It was named after Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, a veteran from central Ohio who died in 2020 at age 39 of lung cancer after being exposed to burn spots while deployed on duty. a year in Iraq in 2006.

“This bill, in many ways, started in Ohio,” Brown said.

Veterans will not have to go through all the red tape faced by their predecessors who suffered the effects of Agent Orange.

“You don’t have to prove you were near a fire pit,” Zagura said. “It makes the process much easier. It is enormous.

Some veterans meeting with Brown on Friday said they were unaware of the services available to them through the Veterans Administration. Several veterans told him that they felt abandoned when they left the army. Veterans said “once they couldn’t get me back up, they didn’t care,” Brown said.

Veterans Services saved the life of Kurt Rife, a former reservist who lives near Custar. Rife suffers from a neurological disorder that numbs his feet and hands and affects his balance. The ailments rendered him unable to continue working as a registered nurse.

“I have a family and I have a home,” he said, explaining that his treatments would have cost him $18,000 every three weeks. “I would have been buried in the bills if not for you guys.”

But many veterans — and the families some left behind — aren’t aware of the health benefits they’ve gained.

This is especially true for homeless veterans, said Hauser, who noted that the VA requires an address to process a claim. A PO box will suffice, he says.

But even well-connected veterans don’t know what benefits they’re entitled to, according to Capt. Greg Panning, Wood County Sheriff, who served in the Marines from 1992 to 1996.

“I entered the civil service to serve my country. Now I serve my county,” he said, adding that once he left the military, he lost sight of the health benefits.

Since so many veterans go into law enforcement professions, Wasylyshyn said he will let local police departments know about the need for veterans to enroll in PACT benefits.

When inmates are brought to the county jail, they are asked if they are veterans, but many fail to mention their service because of the shame of ending up in jail, the sheriff said.

“We have to overcome this stigma,” he said.

Also present at the roundtable were officials from Bowling Green State University and Owens Community College, who spoke about their military.

Owens president Dione Somerville said her college has about 500 military-affiliated students. And David Rice reported that BGSU had just under 700 students with military affiliations, including about 160 in the National Guard and about 200 on active duty.

University officials agreed that military and veterans should sign up for PACT benefits now, even though it may be years before they need them.

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