January 31, 2023

Congressman Castro Recommends Veteran Advocates Le Roy and Rosie Torres for the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Read Congressman Castro’s Recommendation Letter Here

WASHINGTON – This week, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) sent a letter to President Biden, urging him to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Captain Le Roy Torres and Rosie Torres of Robstown, Texas. In the letter, Congressman Castro commended the couple’s work to protect the rights of returning servicemembers and highlighted their leadership in efforts to expand health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, including through their advocacy for the Honoring Our PACT Act.

“Over the past decade, Rosie and Le Roy have played a central role in ensuring the United States upholds our commitment to veterans. They successfully fought for the passage of two federal laws to protect veterans impacted by burn pits and secured a victory for disabled veterans at the Supreme Court,” wrote Congressman Castro. “Rosie and Le Roy define what it means to be American. I cannot think of two better people who deserve to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

“It is an honor to be nominated for the Medal of Freedom award. Our efforts with the PACT ACT were born from our own injustice and journey.  To know that no other Veteran or survivor will be served by denial is an absolute blessing and victory. This nomination is in honor of the fallen who lost the battle to burn pit exposure and to their families that walked the halls alongside us. It is a symbol of every tear, hardship and loss after War but it is also a reminder of what it is to be American. To anyone facing an injustice, never give up and know that your voice can change history,” said Rosie and Le Roy Torres.

Captain and Mrs. Torres are the co-founders of Burn Pits 360, a non-profit organization that advocates for burn pit-impacted veterans. Their family’s advocacy began after Captain Torres developed a severe lung condition from prolonged exposure to open-air burn pits during a deployment to Iraq. In 2010, as veterans affected by burn pits struggled to get the Department of Veterans Affairs to acknowledge their service-connected injuries, Burn Pits 360 established an independent registry for family members to record the names of servicemembers who died because of toxic exposure. Captain and Mrs. Torres were instrumental in the 2013 creation of a federal burn pit registry and later played a leading role in the 2022 passage of the Honoring Our PACT Act, landmark bipartisan legislation that expanded health care and benefits for more than five million exposed to toxic substances, including burn pits and Agent Orange.

Captain Torres was also the plaintiff in Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety, a Supreme Court case defending the rights of servicemembers and veterans under USERRA, a federal law that protects the reemployment rights of returning servicemembers. The case originated after the Texas Department of Public Safety denied Captain Torres’s request to continue his job as a Texas State Trooper with reasonable accommodations for his service-connected disability. Captain Torres subsequently sued the Department for failure to abide by USERRA’s protections and appealed to the Supreme Court after a lower court ruled that Congress lacked the power to authorize lawsuits against states under USERRA. If Captain Torres had not appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, the lower court’s decision could have eviscerated the rights of military personnel to return to their civilian jobs. On June 29, 2022, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Captain Torres and upheld the responsibility of state employers to abide by the servicemember protections in USERRA.

Congressman Castro has worked closely with the Torres family for many years. Beginning in 2017, he hosted a series of field hearings and Congressional briefings to raise awareness about burn pit exposure and urge the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand services for burn pit-affected veterans. In 2021, Congressman Castro led a letter to then-Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, urging the Department of Justice to ask the Supreme Court to grant review of Torres v. Texas and protect the rights of returning servicemembers. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, Congressman Castro led an amicus brief in support of Captain Torrs. Captain Torres was also Congressman Castro’s guest for the 2022 State of the Union Address.