army sergeant. Mario Lopez, who bears the physical scars of the war in Afghanistan, spent four months working in the combustion pits.
SAN ANTONIO — Texas veterans have filed the most disability claims related to burn-related health issues, according to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, compared to the rest of the country.
Congressman Tony Gonzales joined McDonough in a roundtable discussion with VA health care leaders and veterans in San Antonio, emphasizing that there are resources for those who have suffered the impact of hazardous waste while serving overseas .
“Anyone who wears a uniform deserves that ability to get the health care they need and deserve,” said Gonzales, who is himself a veteran.
McDonough revealed that nearly 600,000 veterans nationwide have filed grievances under the PACT Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in August. He said the Texans accounted for more than 62,000 complaints.
Burn Pits 360, a Texas-based non-profit organization, has spent more than a decade advocating for expanded health benefits across the state and in Washington DC, which led to the passage of the PACT Act.
The law intends to help 3.5 million eligible veterans who have experienced the health impact of hazardous waste.
The VA website lists over 20 conditions presumed toxic fire pit exposure and other conditions that might qualify a veteran to receive treatment.
army sergeant. Mario Lopez is a survivor, bearing the scars of war from an attack in Afghanistan 15 years ago.
“About 30 minutes into the mission, we are hit by a 300-pound IED (improvised explosive device),” Lopez said.
The veteran suffered burns on 54% of his body and was forced to amputate his right arm.
While in the Middle East, Lopez lived for four months near combustion pits, where everything from feces to food to clothing was disposed of.
“That’s when I got injured and was in the detail of the burn pit from time to time,” Lopez said. “I had no idea it was toxic, I thought — it was fine.”
McDonough acknowledged that the VA is working to improve awareness efforts, increase staffing and innovative ways of screening veterans for various diseases.
“We will give you the care you deserve, the benefits you’ve earned,” McDonough said. “You’ve waited long enough, let’s do it.”
As for Lopez, his faith and passion for art has helped him on a long journey of healing. He urges fellow veterans to take advantage of the PACT Act and voice their concerns.
“Yes, we have to win a war, but let’s also go take care of our soldiers because it might cost more in the long run,” Lopez said.
McDonough also visited Mayor Ron Nirenberg and VA facilities in Austin and Houston.
To find out more about the PACT Act go here.