WILMINGTON — A well-known political commentator and comedian will make his way to the steps of Sen. Richard Burr’s office in downtown Wilmington Thursday. Jon Stewart is speaking as part of the PACT Summit, hosted by nonprofits Grunt Style Foundation and Burn Pits 360. Together, they are advocating to extend health protections for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals.
The summit, taking place at the Murchison Building (201 N. Front St., Ste 809), will call attention to the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. Senators are expected to vote on the bill after the House passed it Mar. 3. The legislation centers on protecting veterans from battlefield toxins — 24 exposure presumptions — from burn pits set aflame during war, including operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001.
PACT proponents prepared a letter for constituents to sign and send to their senators to promote the bill. It states thousands of veterans were stationed around burn pits — some the size of football fields — often incinerating almost 150 tons of waste each day. Plastics, batteries, medical supplies, human and animal waste were only a few items torched. The aftermath has left many veterans diagnosed with cancer, pulmonary disease and neurological symptoms, the letter continues.
Stewart and summit advocates will hand-deliver the letters and petitions signed by veteran business owners and others to Burr. The goal is to compel the North Carolina official’s vote for the PACT Act.
The act would extend healthcare to more than 3 million veterans, champion disability compensation for those affected by burn pits, and pay out death benefits to spouses and children. It also covers those exposed to poisonous water, found from 1953 to 1987 on Camp Lejeune, located 45 miles northeast of Wilmington. Veteran families would be allowed to file a new tort claim for being exposed to such.
The act concedes exposure to airborne hazards and burns, and it expands Agent Orange subjection to military activated in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.
The summit starts at the Veterans Memorial along the Riverwalk downtown. From there, attendees will proceed to Burr’s office on Front Street, where opening remarks will take place. The event is scheduled from noon to 12:45 p.m.
Stewart has been vocal for years in protecting those who often risk their lives on the frontlines. Last summer, he spoke out in an emotional plea to Congress to expand help to 9/11 first responders. The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund reauthorization bill passed a month later in July. The fund was founded right after 9/11, stopped in 2004 and restarted in 2011, with renewal taking place every few years. Money goes to frontline workers exposed to harmful fumes at the World Trade Center after its decimation in 2001.
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