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Has Congress Forgotten about Military Veterans Burn Pit Problems?

JULY 2018 – Burn Pit exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan and the health issues surrounding them could become another “Agent Orange” in the military community, but Veterans Affairs (VA) leaders and administration officials have promised they won’t let it.

Unfortunately, a few lawmakers and several veterans advocates fear it already has.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), an Army National Guard soldier who served in Iraq in 2004-2005, and Afghanistan war veteran Rep. Brian Mast (R-Florida), introduced the Burn Pits Accountability Act, new legislation requiring a more in-depth monitoring of servicemembers’ health for signs of illnesses connected to toxic exposure in combat zones.

“The level of awareness among members of Congress on the problems from burn pits is abysmally low,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “Too few understand the urgency of the issue.”

Burn pits were extensively used in both Afghanistan and Iraq to dispose of various kinds of trash or waste and they are suspected of causing a wide array of unusual cancers, respiratory illnesses and other health complications from the post-9/11 generation of veterans. The new legislation is renewing talks about these problems.

Over 141,000 veterans and active duty service members have enrolled in VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, which allows individuals to document their experiences and illnesses with the department.

Both Gabbard and Mast have said that the military and VA can be more proactive with the issues associated with burn pit exposure, especially since the issues with Agent Orange exposure during Vietnam were handled so poorly.

In fact, several decades passed before the litany of illnesses linked to the toxic chemical defoliant were acknowledged by the VA, let alone authorized for veterans disability benefits. Veterans Advocates fear that bureaucratic indifference will mean years of suffering by the current generation of veterans before proper medical and financial support is put in place.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee members will hold a hearing on the issue, while IAVA and numerous other veterans groups are meeting with lawmakers to find a path ahead, either on the Gabbard/Mast legislation or another plan.

For more information on the Burn Pits Accountability Act, go to: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/5671/text?format=txt