© 2024 254 North Front Street, Suite 300, Wilmington, NC 28401 | 910.343.1640
News Classical 91.3 Wilmington 92.7 Wilmington 96.7 Southport
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Deadline approaches for veterans to apply for first year of burn pit benefits

Senior Airman Frances Gavalis tosses unserviceable uniform items into a burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq in 2008. The military destroyed uniforms, equipment and other materials in huge burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some veterans say those pits are responsible for respiratory problems they are now experiencing.
Senior Airman Julianne Showalter
/
USAF
Senior Airman Frances Gavalis tosses unserviceable uniform items into a burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq in 2008. The military destroyed uniforms, equipment and other materials in huge burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some veterans say those pits are responsible for respiratory problems they are now experiencing.

Wednesday is the deadline for veterans to start the process of getting the first year of benefits for being exposed to toxic burn pits during their deployments.

Service members sometimes came into contact with toxic fumes from pits of burning trash at forward operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other parts of central Asia and Africa.

Congress passed legislation called the PACT Act that went into effect in August of 2022. It provides new benefits for burn pit exposure. There is no deadline to get ongoing benefits, but veterans need to start the application process by Wednesday to get compensated for benefits that started last year.

"We have a lot [of veterans] that have what we call 'unseen wounds,'" explained Retired Command Sergeant Major Mike Stoddard, veterans benefits director at the Wounded Warrior Project. "Sometimes it takes years for some of that to come forward when you start talking about cancer or you start talking about those issues or diseases that come with the toxic exposures."

Stoddard served as an Army medic, including at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Liberty, formerly known as Fort Bragg. He said he was exposed to burn pits in Iraq and has been diagnosed with head cancer.

"If we learned anything from Vietnam and Agent Orange, we understand that 20 years is when we start to see those issues or those concerns come up, so it's critically important that we go back in and we get taken care of," Stoddard said.

Veterans can go to the Department of Veterans Affairs website or call the VA's benefits hotline at 1-800-827-1000 by Wednesday to at least signal an intent to start an application for the past year's benefits.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.