Gillibrand, Rubio introduce legislation to help vets get VA care from burn pit-related diseases

Regional News

WASHINGTON (NEWS10) – On Friday, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the bipartisan and bicameral Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act. This bill would streamline the process for veterans to get VA benefits for illness due to exposure from burn pits and other toxic exposures.

According to the VA, approximately 3.5 million veterans have been exposed to burn pits that shoot toxic fumes and carcinogens into the air. Burn pits are illegal on American soil.

During military operations in the Global War on Terror and the Gulf War, the military used open-air burn pits in order to burn garbage, medical waste, plastics, and other waste. According to estimates, at least 230 pits were utilized in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many others were used across the world. The largest of these burn pits was located at the Balad Air Base in Iraq. This particular burn pit was 10-acres of trash that burned “24-hours a day, 365 days a year.”

It is estimated that more than 3.5 million military personnel could have been exposed to burn pits and the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry website shows that nearly 235,00 veterans and service members have completed and submitted a questionnaire to self-report medical information about burn pit exposure. 

Gillibrand and Rubio say that veterans are now sick and dying from lung diseases, cancers, and respiratory illnesses after enduring these kinds of conditions while serving overseas. However, they add that the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to deny many veterans access to the VA, saying there isn’t enough science to prove their sicknesses are service-connected.  

Under current law, in order to be eligible for VA benefits, a veteran must establish that a particular injury or disease resulting in a disability was caused by serving in the Armed Forces.

For veterans exposed to burn pits, this means they would need to provide medical evidence of a current disease or disability and also provide evidence they were near a specific burn pit or had exposure to specific toxins. Then, the VA determines if there is enough evidence to provide a medical exam and continue with the disability compensation claim.

The new Act would remove the “burden of proof” from the veteran. Instead, the veteran would only need to submit documentation that they received a campaign medal associated with the Global War on Terror or the Gulf War and that they suffer from a qualifying health condition.

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