WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) - Martin Garcia served in the army from 2008 to 2014, at one point being deployed in Afghanistan. While there, he and his fellow soldiers used burn pits to get rid of items they didn’t want falling into enemy hands.

“Even if it was reused petroleum waste or anything of that nature."

Those burn pits often sent toxic fumes into the air. Garcia says “unfortunately, everything we burned, we inhaled, we didn't have any protective masks or any equipment that was given to us.“

Garcia says since the exposure while deployed, he and other soldiers he was with have developed some sort of respiratory issue. “I do have one very close friend that I know for a fact…contracted a very acute case of asthma, that ended his career in the army."

Veterans like Garcia will now have the chance to get better health care and financial benefits for that exposure.

On January first the PACT Act went into effect after being passed in August.

Donna Meyer-Hickel, the director of Wichita's regional VA office says the act is simply "the widest ranging health care and benefit eligibility that has happened in the last number of decades.”

The law adds over 20 health issues as presumptive conditions for care for veterans who have been exposed to burn pits in the Middle East or Agent Orange in Vietnam.

“If you have the condition and you are exposed, then you are eligible for benefits, we're not going to make you prove a relationship between those two, they're eligible for benefits,” Meyer-Hickel told KAKE Thursday.

She says many veterans have not had the best experience with the VA over the years, with claims getting denied or other problems. However, she says that the PACT act really opens up options for the VA to try to help. So she is encouraging any veteran to try again.

"The VA of 20 years ago is not the VA of today, when it comes to processing claims or when it comes to health care.”

Meyer-Hickel says nationwide the VA has already received over 200,000 claims under the PACT act.

She adds that these increased benefits are not just for veterans, but others as well. “The surviving spouse may be entitled to benefits based on that veteran service. If they don't know, the veteran maybe never applied while they were in service or they didn't think to apply that there was an entitlement for death benefits and so we encourage surviving to let the surviving spouses know as well, that there, there could be entitlement for them.”

You can file a claim through the VA or through one of its partner agencies. You can visit the VA's website for more information on how to apply.