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We cannot send our troops to war, and then send them the bill
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BY Dawn M. Napier

Memorial Day is a weekend where America pauses and reflects on those lives given in service to our country. Many of those lives were not lost on the battlefield but instead lost here at home, to illnesses long after they have taken off their uniforms. 

Burn pits, agent orange, and oil fires are some of the hazards our service men and women were exposed to in service. And it is those hazards that are killing them today. Our troops bravely served in dangerous environments, exposed to all kinds of dangers, and it is time we take care of them once and for all. 

Thousands of Vietnam veterans suffered illnesses due to exposure to agent orange. It took decades for most of those illnesses to be recognized by VA and Congress. Shockingly, there are still some agent orange illnesses not recognized for care and benefits. 

Gulf War Illness is a cluster of unexplained chronic illnesses that are determined to be caused by exposures to oil fires and chemical weapons in Operations Desert Storm/Shield. Currently, Gulf War veterans who have undiagnosed ailments only had a limited time to file for care and benefits for these unexplainable illnesses. 

For post 9/11 veterans, burn pits are one of the lasting images from our nearly 20-year Global War on Terror. Burn pits were used to dispose of plastics, chemicals, batteries, and human waste. On some large bases, they burned 24 hours a day, seven days a week spewing black smoke in all directions. Veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are developing chronic respiratory problems and being diagnosed with rare cancers at an alarming rate. Currently, almost 80% of post 9/11 veterans filing for care and benefits for illnesses due to burn pits are denied. 

For decades, Congress wrote blank checks to send our troops to war but didn’t consider the cost to take care of our troops once they returned home. The practice of sending our young men and women off to war and leaving them to fend for themselves once they return home must stop. 

Thankfully, there is hope on the horizon. The Honoring Our PACT Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation that will take care of generations of veterans, allowing them to finally receive the care and benefits they have EARNED. This legislation is the culmination of years’ worth of advocacy and is supported by 65 major veteran organizations including the Veterans of Foreign Wars. 

Every politician says they support veterans and our troops. Now is the time for them to step up and SHOW they support veterans and our troops. The Senate must pass the PACT Act now before another veteran dies from an unnecessary or undiagnosed illness. This Congress has a historic opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and fulfill our nation’s promise to the men and women who proudly served our country. 

I urge each and every one of my fellow Californians to reach out to our Senators and remind them that veterans' care is the full cost of war. We must honor our pact with those who served and fulfill our promise to care for those who have borne the battle by passing the PACT Act now!

—                  Dawn M. Napier is the Commander of the California Veterans of Foreign Wars.