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'The limitations are bothersome' says some veteran advocates of newly signed PACT Act

Tampa Bay's Lauren Price was one of the first veterans to start demanding benefit expansion for those harmed by toxic burn pit exposure.

WASHINGTON — They survived the war only to come home to another battle.

For many veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while deployed, Wednesday marked an important day giving them hope and a pathway to healing.

President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act, which expands access to disability benefits and healthcare for many veterans harmed by toxic exposure. The legislation empowers the VA to move quickly to get vets the care they need and offers more benefits to the families of those who died.

"This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits during their military services," President Biden said prior to signing the bill.

Burn pits were burning holes in the ground used in Iraq and Afghanistan as a way to eliminate waste like chemicals, ammunition, oil and other items the military needed to get rid of. Many veterans have described it as a burning hole of toxic waste.

Many soldiers who inhaled the toxic fumes came home to develop rare illnesses and conditions months and years after their deployments.

"When they came home, many of the fittest and best warriors that we sent to war were not the same — headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer, my son Beau was one of them," the President said to a crowd full of veterans and their families.

Tampa Bay's Lauren Price was one of them, too.

In 2018, Lauren Price, a veteran from New Port Richey told 10 Tampa Bay burn pits were the least of their worries while serving, adding, "We were there during the worst," Price said. "It was the most fatalities in Iraq. We were losing a truck with five people every single week out of our brigade. You figured you’d get blown up.”

She made it back to Florida, however, within months of coming home, Price noticed she was having respiratory problems and would get winded very easily. During that 2018 interview with 10 Tampa Bay, Lauren Price said, "I had no idea that the thing I would come home to deal with would be literally I can’t breathe.”

Price passed away from cancer of the peritoneum in 2021.

A decade before she died, Price founded Veteran Warriors, a foundation dedicated to helping veterans navigate the VA system and find answers and solutions to a wide range of issues. During that time, she testified before Congress fighting for burn pit veterans and spearheaded efforts supported by advocate and celebrity Jon Stewart.

RELATED: Jon Stewart backing final push to help veterans exposed to toxins while serving

Credit: James Price

Wednesday, members of Veteran Warriors were in attendance as Biden signed the PACT Act, an event they considered to be bittersweet.

"A lot of sorrow for Lauren. Lauren should have been here. She should have been in those seats today. She should have been recognized today," Executive Director Holly Ferrell said.

Ferrell and others believe the PACT Act is a mere stepping stone for healthcare expansion.

"We have very big concerns over exactly what’s going to be covered," said Ferrell who believes the language in the law could leave a lot of veterans out.

Ironically, the cancer Lauren died of would not be covered under the PACT Act.

"She would say it’s a good try, this is a good start, now let’s build on to this. We can build onto it," Ferrell added.

Tori Seals, a veteran advocate whose husband died of cancer caused by burn pit exposure emphasized the importance of preventative screenings, noting that her husband's tumor was ignored rather than explored. She says proper detection could have saved his life.

Seals said the VA can enhance the new law by writing it into the regulations.

"Put it in writing, implement and codify the regulations to make sure no one is left out," said Seals.

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