TAMPA, Fla. — During the last two decades, acres-wide burn pits that included all kinds of hazardous materials were dowsed in jet fuel and ignited by the military to get rid of waste throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The burn pits created a lot of toxic fumes in the air that literally permeated the camps that the soldiers lived in and we inhaled it and as a result many of us became sick," said Col. DJ Reyes, a retired Army colonel.
Reyes served in the army for more than 30 years and did multiple tours overseas. But says the burn pits took a toll on his health.
"It affected my breathing as well as my cardiovascular system," said Reyes.
It's estimated that 3.5 million vets were exposed but nearly 70 percent of burn pit claims have been denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"If you became sick while deployed overseas and said it was because of the burn pits, the government would say there was no connection," said Reyes.
But Reyes has been working for years with lawmakers on language for a new bill that will change that.
"If you have any one of these 23 conditions and it's pretty inclusive and you show that you were in the military and were in a theater of operations, you have just checked that box for the presumptive conditions requirement, and now it is on the V.A. to provide the necessary healthcare," said Reyes.
That bill known as the 'PACT ACT' was approved by the House and Senate and is soon on its way to President Joe Biden's desk to be signed.
"This is a huge, huge win. If we’re going to send our men and women to defend our nation and our way of life, then the least we should do is take care of them if they get ill," said Reyes.