Will Latinx vets benefit from the PACT Act?
The most comprehensive veterans health care in over 30 years was a win for Biden, but questions surround how Latinx veterans also won.
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On Wednesday, Aug. 10, President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act. The Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics, is the biggest expansion of veterans health care in over 30 years, according to the White House. It will expand federal health care benefits to veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals caused from burn pits on the battlegrounds in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Biden described the legislation as long overdue after years of fighting. Over 3.5 million troops were harmed. These pits were used as a dumping ground for chemicals, tires, medical equipment, and even human waste. Health consequences occurred as a result that included over 20 different cancers, respiratory illnesses, and other conditions. Veterans enrolled in the VA will also be able to get chemical screenings. While a big win for Biden, veterans, and their families, questions surrounder how and if Latinx veterans will benefit from it.
Latinx soldiers have fought in every major war since World War II. According to the National World War II Museum, over half a million Latinx fought in the war. More than 80,000 served in Vietnam. Even now, as recently as 2019, a report by the Congressional Research Service said Latinx were the fastest growing demographic in the military, making up over 16% of active duty military.
The Latinx community has shown a strong allegiance with the United States in helping fight, but rarely get their due justice as it relates to medical benefits, financial and job advancement, with many being deported too after fighting. Help exists, but mainly from Latino organizations like LULAC and The Society of Hispanic Veterans, rather than the U.S. government itself.
Former President George Bush said back in 2004 that over 85,000 Latino veterans had served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The U.S. Census Bureau said in a report back in 2018 that over 12% of those fighting were Latino. Despite over half a century’s worth of loyalty to the military, many veterans do not reap the benefits.
With that, up until now, many since 2001 have been deported. The U.S. government does not know how many.
Saif Khan, an adviser to the VA's general counsel and a naturalized citizen, said The Department of Veterans Affairs had begun trying to contact over 123,983 veterans who are not citizens, to let them know how to become citizens. These are veterans who left the service between 2001 and as recent as last April.
Under the Biden Administration, they hope to clamp down on further deportations of veterans as well as boost efforts to bring those back into the country who were deported.
Not much is available as to why Latino veterans are falling through the cracks despite making up a significant portion of the military itself, especially during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
When help does not come where it should, it is up to organizations to look after their own. This past January, The American Latino Veterans Association (ALVA), a nonprofit organization launched. They look to help Latinos through four different avenues, workforce development/job placement, entrepreneurship/business development, information on benefits/resources, and support benefits that support veterans and Latinos.
LULAC, one of the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights organizations, also has help in place for Latino veterans by way of visas, health benefits, and deportation protections.