FRANKLIN, TN | USA | January 9, 2023 IN THE HECTIC, swampy beginning of August 2022 in Washington, D.C., a group of veterans and their families stood their ground outside the Capitol, refusing to let political positioning destroy a bill that promised to save many of their lives. The PACT Act (Promising to Address Comprehensive Toxins), signed into law on August 10, is the largest bill providing veteran healthcare and benefits to date. It finally acknowledges the responsibility of the government to admit the dangerously toxic practice of creating burn pits, which killed and poisoned American service members on foreign soil.
Four friends stood together at that August protest, friends who had been fighting for justice for veterans and their families for years. Gina Cancelino, Tim Hauser, Kevin Hensley, and Kimberly Hughes met through Burn Pits 360, an organization that provides information and support to veterans made ill by burn pit toxins. But their work in common turned into a family bond as they turned to one another for emotional support and shared expenses.
Tim Hauser, a Gulf War Army veteran from Ohio, battled lung issues for three decades, losing jobs, property, and relationships, without the support of the Veterans Administration. Even after winning his own benefits, he continued to fight for benefits for other veterans. He got involved with Burn Pits 360 after an invitation from Kevin Hensley, an Air Force veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite battling debilitating lung disease for years, Kevin worked in the Air Force twenty years before retirement. He continues to work closely with the Michigan VFW and with organizations to get other veterans Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, a treatment that helped him significantly.
Gina Cancelino and Kimberly Hughes both found Burn Pits 360 while they were fighting desperately for their husbands’ lives. Joseph Cancelino contracted a rare and aggressive form of testicular cancer from exposure to the toxins in burn pits when he was in Iraq. After he died, his wife Gina began fighting for other veterans to have access to information, screening, and treatment, as well as for benefits for surviving families. Kimberly Hughes lost her husband Gary to aggressive stomach and liver cancer that spread to his brain, cancer he contracted after exposure to toxic fumes from burn pits during a deployment to Afghanistan. She kept her promise to Gary to fight for other veterans after he was gone.
The passage of the PACT Act is a landmark victory for veterans and their families. In The Promise, Gina, Tim, Kevin, and Kim tell their stories of trials, friendship, and faithfulness to your chosen family. Together, their stories show how we as Americans can do better and are doing better, starting with keeping our Promise to veterans.