According to NewsWeek.com, approximately 3.5 million military veterans were exposed to burn pit toxins and other toxic chemicals while serving overseas. A new bill overwhelmingly passed the U.S. Senate that would grant medical care and benefits to those veterans who are suffering from cancers and respiratory illnesses and cancers linked to toxins they were exposed to in war zones. Veterans groups believe the bill’s passage is long overdue.
Burn pits are a trench where waste is burned. Burn pits were a common waste disposal method used at military sites in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Many burn pits were used to dispose of paint, medical waste, chemicals, munitions, human waste, and other hazardous materials. In 2014, the VA created a registry to address concerns of burn pit-related respiratory illness. The legislation would grant military veterans medical care for injuries, illnesses, and cancers caused by burn pits.
The legislation was named after Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, an Ohio National Guard soldier who was deployed to both Iraq and Kosovo. He tragically passed away in 2020 after suffering from stage-four lung cancer, which was diagnosed in 2017. Mr. Robinson’s oncologist stated that his cancer was rare and would have only his cancer was caused by exposure to toxins released from a burn pit. Mr. Robinson suffered severely for more than three years. Mr. Robinson’s wife, Danielle, applied for VA Caregiver Benefits. However, the VA denied her claim stating that the Robinsons could not prove that the burn pit smoke caused his illness.
Veterans groups believe that tens of thousands of other military members suffered similar experiences as the Robinson’s. The problem has gained traction in the past several years. President Joe Biden also spoke of the issue concerning burn pits in his State of the Union address last March.
President Biden voiced support for this legislation as the President signed nine other veterans’ bills into law. One of the bills extends eligibility for VA mammography screenings for military veterans who were assigned to bases or installations already connected with toxic exposures.
The new bill adds twenty-three burn pit and toxic exposure-related circumstances to a list of diseases thought to be service-connected. The bill also designates thirty-one new VA healthcare facilities and also expands health care eligibility for certain combat veterans, and improves toxin-related illness screening.
According to Democratic Senator Jon Tester, Chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, this legislation is long overdue.
The Congressional Budget Office calculates that the new bill would cost the federal government $278.5 billion over ten years. This estimate is approximately $40 billion less than a previous version passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
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