Minnesota vet who worked in burn pits in Iraq dies waiting for PACT Act funding

Soldier standing in a field.
Soldier standing in a field. Photo credit Getty Images

A Minnesota family is mourning a soldier who died from working the burn pits in Iraq, a place known for the disposal of chemicals and hazardous materials. His death comes just six weeks before qualifying for benefits under the new federal PACT Act.

Rudy Rios served 14 years in the National Guard and was deployed to Iraq twice. After his service, he was diagnosed with lymphoma at the age of 44. The diagnosis came after he had worked in the burn pits in 2021.

Rios recently filed a claim for benefits under the PACT Act, but the VA isn't processing claims until Jan. 2023, leaving him with no options.

Sadly, Rios has lost his fight with cancer, leaving behind his four young children.

“He was a happy person, he loved to help people, and he cared a lot for his family,” Rios’ uncle Gabriel said.

Gabriel is now the legal guardian of the children and is waiting to find out if the VA will approve him as a substitute for his nephew.

He shared with News Talk 830 WCCO that watching his nephew’s children grieve has been difficult.

“The boys healed harder than the girls, but the girls have a lot of questions,” Gabriel said. “We try to answer them as best we can.”

Greg Peterson, the Director of Veterans Services in Brown County, says that, sadly, Rudy's case is not unique.

“They’re probably several throughout Minnesota and hundreds in the United States,” Peterson said.

Peterson added that Rios’ case is even more tragic because there was a possibility funds could have got to him sooner if he could have held on.

“If he had lived one or two more days, they probably would have been able to release the dollar figures to him,” Peterson said, adding that his cancer “just enveloped him so quickly,”.

Peterson says they are working with several Minnesota families who are all in a similar and tragic predicament.

“Even when he was dying, he was still fighting. He was trying to stay alive until January,” Gabriel said.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images