WKYT Investigates UPDATE | Central Ky. veteran, advocate relieved by passage of PACT Act

The bill includes provisions to aid veterans exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune.
The bill includes provisions to aid veterans exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune.
Published: Aug. 7, 2022 at 8:09 PM EDT
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WINCHESTER, Ky. (WKYT) - A central Kentucky veteran has accepted an invitation to be at the White House this week as President Biden signs the Honoring our PACT Act into law.

The bill is designed to help service members exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it also includes language to help veterans exposed to toxic water decades ago at Camp Lejeune.

Related coverage via WKYT Investigates:

WKYT Investigates first reported in March 2021 on the efforts of Brian Amburgey of Winchester, who made it his mission to help his fellow veterans who, like him, served at the base and were exposed to the toxic water.

He took part in protests, held signs to raise awareness and gathered signatures for a petition for a health registry. He made several trips to Washington, D.C. with other veterans to urge lawmakers to pass legislation to help.

He says he’s relieved by the bill’s passage and by the president’s intention to sign it into law.

“It’s took such a load off my shoulders, my wife’s shoulders, and a lot of people here in Kentucky,” Amburgey told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer on Friday. “To finally see this day come is unbelievable.”

The PACT Act makes it easier for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances to get the medical coverage they need. Previous data shows more than 70 percent of disability claims related to burn pits are denied by the VA.

In his State of the Union address back in March, President Biden urged Congress to pass the legislation.

The bill also includes provisions from the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, allowing veterans exposed to toxic water at the base to seek relief in court, and the TEAM Act, which, among other things, creates a health registry for further research.

“It’s an important step forward for those who may have been harmed by water contamination at Camp Lejeune,” Terri Tanielian, special assistant to the president for veterans affairs, told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer in a Zoom interview Thursday. “The President has said that we have one true sacred obligation: That is to properly equip and train those we send into harm’s way, and to care for them when they come home. The PACT Act is our opportunity to deliver on that promise.”

The PACT Act had broad bipartisan support throughout its long journey to passage. The bill had multiple iterations and came up for votes multiple times, the latest (and final) being part of a bill to resolve the differences between versions from the two chambers.

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Despite the wide support, two members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation - both Republicans - voted against it. Rep. James Comer was one of 88 House members to oppose it in its final vote. Sen. Rand Paul was one of 11 senators to vote against it.

“We must take care of our veterans and keep our country strong,” Sen. Paul said on the Senate floor last week. “This bill puts our economy, though, at risk by creating presumptions of service-connection for the most common of ailments.”

Paul cited his support for other veterans bills and also offered an amendment (which was voted down) to pay for the bill by suspending foreign aid disbursed by USAID except for aid to Israel.

President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law during a ceremony scheduled for Wednesday. Amburgey has received an invitation and says he plans to be there.

“The benefits they went and put their lives on the line for,” Amburgey said - “they’re finally going to be able to get what they deserve from this country.”

But as a long-time advocate, he knows his work is just beginning. He says he will continue to work to reach more veterans who may not know they have been exposed.

What to know:

U.S. government officials have admitted that water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with toxins from leaking storage tanks on the base and a dry cleaner off the base. The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges those exposed as veterans who served on the base at least 30 days total between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987.

The Marine Corps base is in North Carolina, but thousands of Kentuckians are believed to have gone through there while the water was toxic. More than 4,400 people in Kentucky are registered through the military for notifications on the issue, although that number is not necessarily limited only to those exposed.

As many as one million military and civilian staff and their families might have been exposed to the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, according to estimates from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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