An Army Reserve veteran at the center of a Capitol Hill fight over burn pit benefits and a Supreme Court case over veterans employment rights was awarded $2.49 million from a Texas jury last week after a 12-year battle with state police officials.
Le Roy Torres, one of the founders of the advocacy group Burn Pits 360 and a well-known figure in national veterans advocacy efforts, had been arguing in court for the last six years that he was improperly forced out of his job as a Texas state trooper in 2011 after complaining of health problems related to earlier military deployments in Iraq.
Torres served in the Army Reserve and developed severe breathing problems linked to the toxic smoke from burn pits around the bases where he was stationed. Since then, he has been diagnosed with lung disease and toxic brain injuries.
He sued the Texas Department of Public Safety after supervisors there failed to make accommodations for his injuries, as required under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which protects reservists from job discrimination based on their military service.
But Texas state attorneys argued that Torres did not have standing to sue the state, eventually leading to arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. In June 2022, the justices ruled 5-4 to allow his lawsuit to proceed.
The jury behind last Friday’s decision unanimously voted to award Torres 11 years of back pay. State officials have not yet said if they will appeal the verdict.
Along with the employment lawsuit, Torres and his wife, Rosie, have been active figures in the Capitol Hill debates surrounding benefits for veterans suffering from burn pit-related conditions.
The pair were frequently highlighted before and after the passage of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act — better known as the PACT Act — in August 2022. That legislation in part mandated expanded disability benefits for 12 types of cancer and 12 other respiratory illnesses linked to burn pit smoke exposure in Iraq, Afghanistan and other overseas combat zones.
Rosie Torres told Military Times the couple were pleased and overwhelmed by Friday’s decision by the jury, given the lengthy wait for resolution to the legal fight.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.