Wife of former Vt. general encouraged by Senate action on burn pits

Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 6:25 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill Thursday that helps millions of veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Passage of the bill by a vote of 84-14 sets a course that could help millions who served after Sept. 11, 2001, and caps years of advocacy work by veterans groups.

June Heston of Richmond lost her husband, Brigadier General Mike Heston, to a rare form of pancreatic cancer after his three deployments to Afghanistan. General Heston was the number two in charge at the Vermont National Guard.

In 2018, when we first reported on the burn pits, General Heston told us the burn pits caused his cancer.

In those pits, everything was torched with jet fuel. We saw them first hand when Channel Three News embedded with the Vermont National Guard in the war zone in Afghanistan in 2010. Many Vermont soldiers exposed to them got sick and died. But for years the VA denied soldiers claims -- that the burn pits made them sick.

Now, this historic new legislation, The PACT Act, allows vets to get free medical care, expands benefits, and presumes that numerous illnesses and cancers were linked to exposure from burn pits.

“It’s overwhelming. I am just so grateful. And here we are, we’ve done it,” June Heston said. “It does change things for so many others. He would be proud.”

Many advocates who have pushed for the legislation have called the burn pits the new agent orange, the chemical defoliant used in Vietnam that made military members sick, too.

WCAX learned earlier this year that seven burn pits are still in use in the Middle East.

“That is something still will need to change or we will continue to have to take care of veterans needlessly because we are putting them in situations that could be avoided.,” Heston said.

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