PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Friday is Veterans Day and the VA has a message for veterans who may be struggling with respiratory issues or cancer.

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins (PACT) Act was signed into law in August by President Joe Biden, expanding health benefits for veterans who were exposed to burn pits.

The Providence VA is now looking to get the word out to veterans who may qualify.

“I was in Desert Storm next to the oil fields when they were on fire,” said Larry Connell, Director of Providence VA Healthcare System.

“The oil fields were so intense the sky in the middle of the day would turn daylight to night because the sun just couldn’t get through the black smoke from the oil wells,” he continued.

Military members were exposed to toxic chemicals while serving our country for decades.

“This was 1992, we literally burned everything,” Connell said. “We poured jet fuel on it and lit it on fire. Nobody thought twice about it.”

Connell says to his knowledge he doesn’t have any health problems from burn puts and toxic chemicals during his years as an army helicopter pilot. However, as a longtime director of VA medical centers, he sees firsthand the medical issues stemming from that exposure.

“Little did they know there’s a lot of toxic chemicals in the fumes there and it caused a lot of respiratory issues, some cancer,” he explained.

The PACT Act now presumes any qualifying health condition — like cancers or asthma — in veterans exposed to those burn pits is a result of that exposure. As a result, VA health care covers their treatment and they can also be eligible for benefits.

“You can get a disability rating and in some cases a disability payment as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals,” Connell explained.

12 News asked Connell if anyone has come forward at the VA in Providence because of the new act and he said not yet.

“We’re really doing a concerted effort for outreach to veterans that may have been exposed to chemicals and our team is sending them letters saying look we see you served in Iraq at this date, you could be eligible for toxic exposures, we encourage you to file a claim with the VBA and also enroll in the VA Healthcare system,” he continued.

They do already have many veterans currently being treated for conditions presumed to be caused by burn pits, Connell added, but have already qualified for health care through the VA.

“Numbers-wise, we’ve run the models,” Connell said. “We think in Providence there’s roughly an additional 7,000 to 10,000 veterans that could be eligible for the PACT Act here.”

You can see if you or your loved ones qualify for health care, benefits, or both, through the VA’s website.