Working to get the word out
May 15—NORWALK — Sherrod Brown hosted a roundtable and press availability Friday at VFW Post 2743 in Norwalk to discuss new health care and disability benefits for veterans who have been harmed by toxic exposure while serving in the military.
The U.S. Senator from Ohio spoke to a group that included Norwalk Fire Chief Dan Strayer, Huron County Sheriff Todd Corbin, two members of the Norwalk Police Department — Chief Dave Smith and Capt. Thomas Cook, Norwalk Mayor Dave Light, Laura Dowdell of EHOVE Career Center and Mindy Calhoun of the Huron Veterans Service Office.
Veterans are now eligible for these benefits due to Brown's bipartisan Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 that was signed into law last year.
"This law is the most comprehensive expansion of benefits for veterans who faced toxic exposure in our country's history," Brown said. "We're working to get the word out to veterans across Ohio. If you were exposed to toxins while serving our country, you deserve the benefits you earned. Period. No exceptions."
Cook is a Gulf War veteran in the Army who also has two sons who were veterans that fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Of course I am getting this information to them," Cook said.
He said neither he nor his sons have had any symptoms.
"Sometimes these symptoms are three, five years out," Brown said. "This is what we are concerned with in East Palestine (following the train crash earlier this year)."
Strayer said three of his firefighters are veterans, including one Gulf War veteran.
"I am going to make sure he is registered for this," Strayer said. "We will get this information out to all of our local departments."
Strayer said one of the main problems facing his department is the same sort of problem breathing in all of the toxic fumes.
"It has become a problem ... nobody thought about it," he said. "We started seeing an increase in cancer, particularly thyroid cancer, abdominal cancer and lung cancer. They are coming out with studies that the chemicals they make our gear out of cause cancer when they heat up.
"Ears, throats and necks are the most exposed when we go into fires."
Strayer said departments now have specialized washing machines, dryers and detergents.
"The biggest issue is the gear and keeping it clean," he said.
Another topic discussed was the retention of police officers.
"Right now, just like here in the home market," Dave Smith said. "Right now it is an employees' market.
The police chief noted his department's training is "extremely intensive" to help with the turnover. He also said the city works with the EHOVE Police Academy and the Sandusky Police Academy. "When we are full staff we are at 25.
"We are averaging 3 to 3 1/2 months with their training," Smith said. "Right now we are (staffed) at 20. It is just finding people. Right now it is a very competitive process."
Huron County Sheriff Todd Corbin said it is a battle he faces every day.
"Right now for a county office it is tough for us to compete ... they typically pay more," he said. "I have to deal with the local government on that matter — having competitive pay. I have people leaving for places who pay $10 an hour more (in Amherst and Lorain)."
Corbin said the county has given his deputies a 7 percent pay increase to be competitive.
"We are still a little behind," he said. "I am trying to make up the difference."
"Everybody is starting to look at the contracts."
Brown was joined Friday by Susan Zeier, the mother-in-law of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson. The legislation is named after Robinson, a Central Ohio veteran who passed away in 2020 at age 39 from lung cancer after exposure to burn pits during a one-year deployment in Iraq in 2006.
Zeier, her daughter Danielle Robinson, Heath's widow, and Heath and Danielle's daughter Brielle were at the PACT Act signing at the White House last year.
Northwest Ohio veterans who would like more information on available resources can reach out to the resources below.
—Huron County Veterans Service Commission: (419) 668-4150
—Veterans Crisis Line: 988 — Press 1 or Text 838255 (veteranscrisisline.net).