I graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1968. That summer a lot of my friends were drafted into military service, and after a short boot camp they were shipped out to Vietnam. That hellish war was a long, very costly and divisive conflict that pitted the communist government of North Vietnam against South Vietnam and the United States.

From 1961 to 1971, our forces used "burn pits" and color-coded rainbow herbicides – Agents Green, Pink, Purple, Blue, White and especially Agent Orange – that were sprayed over the dense jungle and surrounding landscape to kill all the food crops, and defoliate all the trees and shrubs that were providing cover to the enemy forces.

Today, it's estimated that 3.5 million veterans have been exposed to cancer-causing agents and other contaminants such as "burn pits," an area for open-air burning of all military trash, from medical supplies to human excrement.

The toxic fumes from burn pits also impacted troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Currently, more than 70 percent of disability claims related to burn pit exposure are denied by the VA due to veterans' inability to prove their illnesses and cancers are linked to exposure to toxic burn pits. For decades, the federal government didn't acknowledge any accountability for Agent Orange exposure.

However, that's changed now. If you can prove that you have an illness because of being exposed to Agent Orange and if you served in a location that exposed you to it, then you are eligible for expanded benefits.

But the politicians are playing games again and rattling their political sabers at each other over the same bill 84 senators voted in favor of in June. We hardly ever see bipartisan numbers like that in the Senate.

Contact your U.S. senators and tell them no more delays and no more amendments. They must honor our vets by bringing the PACT Act to the floor immediately and vote yes because our sick veterans cannot afford to wait any longer.


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