HONORING OUR PACT TO OREGON VETERANS AND THEIR FAMILIES
Friday, December 16, 2022
Veterans and their families have stood up and sacrificed for our nation, and we must stand up for them.
That’s why his Jeff’s office sprung in to action to support Portland constituent Sri Benson on his mission to honor his late wife, Corporal Katherine “KT” Benson.
“We were high school sweethearts, and we married young,” Sri said. “She was my love.”
After serving as an U.S. Army medic in Kuwait, KT returned home and graduated from Oregon State University, earning two degrees in microbiology and chemistry. Sri says it’s this education and background that helped KT later discover how she developed mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer.
“She was exposed to improper asbestos disposal…an industrial dump right next to her barracks,” said Sri. “The VA did not want to acknowledge that her illness was from her exposure to asbestos during her deployment, but because of her knowledge and experience with chemistry she was able to prove it, which was a huge deal because it’s something that’s very difficult to do and very rare.”
Jeff fought to remove these hurdles to health care for Oregon veterans by helping to pass the First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act this summer, which ensures veterans who are suffering from toxic exposures as a result of their service get the health care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.
When the landmark bill cleared Congress shortly after KT passed away, Sri said he knew he had to be there in KT’s honor when President Biden signed it into law, because “if she could have been there, should would have.”
Sri reached out to each of his elected representatives in Congress for help, and he says Jeff’s office “really took the reins” to ensure he was invited to the signing ceremony at the White House, where he was able to speak with President Biden just days after KT’s funeral. This proved to be a powerful moment for both of them because the President lost his own son Beau to brain cancer in 2015, which Biden believes may have been caused by his exposure to burn pits while serving in Iraq.
“I told him, Joe Biden, that KT and Beau would be proud of him, and we both cried,” Sri remembers.
Sri said he also hugged comedian and activist Jon Stewart for his work on the issue and met many members of Congress, but it was forming bonds with other attendees like himself that meant the most.
“The trip to D.C. was paradigm shifting for me,” said Sri. “Now I have a group of people I can talk to, kind of a group therapy, where we can talk about widowhood and the nature of service because they have similar stories.”
All of these experiences are now inspiring Sri to begin a new chapter?in his life, with the memory of KT at the very heart of it.
“She had an incredible capacity for empathy. She more than anything hated to see other people suffer. Through her life the main throughline would be helping other people,” Sri said. “Even though I’m a licensed professional engineer, I think I want to do more to directly help people. So, because of the D.C. experience, the way I am planning to do that is to get into politics and legislation…I think KT would want me to carry on her legacy.”
If you are an Oregon veteran looking to learn more about the PACT Act, visit the VA’s website for more information, or please contact Jeff’s office to help us serve you.