Veterans, surviving families urged to apply for PACT benefits

Veterans, surviving families urged to apply for PACT benefits

Veterans, surviving families urged to apply for PACT benefits

More than 84,000 Minnesotans served in the military since the Gulf War in 1991. They’ve served everywhere from Iraq to Kuwait to Afghanistan and other hot spots.

Many of them have been exposed to toxins from burn pits and other battlefield hazards and could be eligible for federal government benefits if they’ve fallen ill.

“By being there you were exposed to these toxins,” says Trent Dilks, executive director of Disabled Veterans of Minnesota. “This was earned through service. This isn’t a handout.”

Dilks stresses that because so many military veterans consider themselves self-reliant and don’t want government handouts. He stresses that these benefits signed into law last August by President Joe Biden are not freebies.

“You earned the benefits and the rights to the care and the benefits that come with that through your service,” he often tells veterans.

One soldier who “earned” these benefits on behalf of his family is 45-year-old Rudy Ruiz, who died last December of lymphoma linked to his exposure to burn pits in Iraq. He served two tours in Iraq with the Minnesota National Guard.

“The biggest thing that stood out about Rudy was his work ethic,” says his uncle Gabriel Rios of St. Louis Park. “He loved to work out. He always wanted to be in shape, so when the Army came around it was kind of like a perfect match.”

After 14 years in the National Guard and his two tours in Iraq, a couple of years ago he was diagnosed with lymphoma, one of 11 cancers and 12 respiratory illnesses linked to toxins from burn pits. After he died, his family was eligible for a lump sum payment, monthly stipends for his four children along with free college education at public universities.

Health screenings and other benefits are available for veterans who may have been exposed.

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar also highlighted the PACT Act benefits Monday in Minneapolis. They’re urging families or veterans to apply by Aug. 9 to get enhanced benefits backdated to last August when the bill was signed.

On Wednesday a Vet Fest event will take place outside the Minneapolis Veterans Administration medical center where veterans or surviving family members can get more information.