ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — VetFest kicked off Saturday morning in St. Petersburg.
The big goal of the event was to inform veterans about the PACT Act, which happens to have a deadline quickly approaching.
“I’ve served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I also have disabilities: upper respiratory as a result from the toxic exposures,” said Retired US Army Colonel D.J. Reyes.
The PACT Act is a new law for veterans like Reyes.
It expands VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances.
“A lot of these services that we have are not something veterans should just receive, they’ve actually already earned them,” VA Sunshine Healthcare Network Director Network David Isaacks said. “So, it’s our responsibility to make sure we’re connecting them to the benefits they’ve already earned.”
“That’s why we’re doing this today.”
If you file your pact act claim, or submit your intent to file, by Wednesday, you may receive benefits backdated to last August.
VetFest didn’t just educate veterans about the PACT Act, the event also provided toxic exposure screenings, VA claims assistance, and mental health services helping veterans like Bob Shivers.
“When I came home, I was glad to see America when I landed in Oakland, you see a teenager at the airport throwing stuff at you and cussing,” he said.
But Retired Colonel Reyes said this legislation sends a new message to veterans.
“Many of the Vietnam veterans I know, including my own dad, told me when I came into the military 30 years ago, they said ‘never again will this happen'” he explained. “We’re going to take care of our own veterans.”
“This is just one example of the things our community is doing, our government is doing, to make sure that we leave no veteran behind on the battlefield, whether it’s in the middle east, Vietnam, or right here in our own neighborhoods,” he explained.
You can find more details on the PACT Act here.