Esty, Costello, McCollum Announce Bill to Aid Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Reps. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), Ryan Costello (R-PA), and Betty McCollum (D-MN) today announced the introduction of H.R. 1279, the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act.
Burn pits are areas on military bases where waste, such as human waste, batteries, and other garbage, is incinerated and toxic fumes are released into the atmosphere. The Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act would create a center of excellence within the Department of Veterans Affairs in the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of health conditions related to exposure to burn pits. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is also a cosponsor of the legislation.
“I’ve heard from veterans throughout Connecticut who are suffering – or know other service members suffering – from serious health complications that were likely caused by burn pits,” Esty said. “The courageous men and women of our military who endure environmental hazards and risk their long-term health on our nation’s behalf deserve the very best health care. We cannot repeat our shameful inaction after the Vietnam War, when the government failed to acknowledge the terrible toll of Agent Orange. By passing this bill, we can significantly improve the quality of the care for veterans who have been exposed to burn pits, and help them to live longer, healthier lives.”
“The men and women who dedicate their lives to protecting our country must be able to access care for their health needs when they return home,” Costello said. “By establishing a center of excellence within the Department of Veterans Affairs, this bill is an important step forward in providing critical services for veterans facing health issues from burn pits.”
“Far too many of our military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other Gulf War veterans, were exposed to the smoke and toxic substance byproducts of burn pits on U.S. military bases,” McCollum said. “The VA currently maintains a registry of service members who were exposed to burn pits, but it is not nearly sufficient. We need to provide the VA with the resources necessary to examine and research the health effects caused by burn pits. Our veterans exposed to these airborne toxins cannot wait any longer for the care and treatment they deserve.”
Military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are exposed to a variety of potentially harmful substances including the smoke produced from the burning of waste on military bases. Items such as plastics, aerosol cans, electronic equipment, human waste, metal containers, tires, and batteries are thrown into open pits, sometimes doused with jet fuel, and set ablaze. Smoke from these open-air burn pits can waft throughout the entire base and even into living areas.
“Burn pits are the ticking time bomb in this generation of combat veterans,” said Lt. Col. Michael. J Zacchea (ret), a Brookfield, CT Marine Corps veteran and the Program Manager at the Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans. “This is a major health issue which will plague more than 4 million veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last nearly two decades of war.”
Health effects from exposure to chemicals found in burn pits can include cancer, neurological and reproductive effects, respiratory toxicity, and cardiovascular toxicity.