Reps. Gabbard and Mast, IAVA Lead Bipartisan Bill to Evaluate US Troops Exposure to Toxic Burn Pits
Washington, DC—Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) and Brian Mast (FL-18), along with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), hosted a press conference today urging their colleagues to support and pass the Burn Pits Accountability Act (H.R. 5671).The bipartisan legislation would evaluate the exposure of U.S. servicemembers to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals.
Over 140,000 servicemembers and veterans have reported exposure to burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals over the past three decades. Based on deployment numbers, it is assumed that the number of those exposed is far higher. Exposure can produce serious and potentially life-threatening health effects, including neurological disorders, rare forms of cancer, lung diseases, and more—triggering some to call the crisis the ‘Agent Orange’ of the post-9/11 generation.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Post 9/11 Veterans Caucus, said: “I was deployed with many veterans who were exposed to burn pits for extended periods of time every single day. It was just a part of our everyday lives while serving there. This exposure is now proving to result in debilitating and potentially deadly illnesses for many. This is the Agent Orange of our generation, and the VA needs to take action now to collect data and information on veterans who were exposed to burn pits, so we can document the impact and make sure our brothers and sisters are cared for. Our legislation is an urgent and critical step toward getting them the care they need and deserve.”
“When I was serving in Afghanistan, trash and human waste were often burned in open air pits,” Rep. Mast said. “I think it’s quickly becoming clear that these burn pits are emerging as the Agent Orange of my generation. Service members that were exposed in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeing terrible health effects at a very young age. These men and women risked their lives for our country, and this bipartisan legislation will go a long way toward getting them the care they have earned.”
“IAVA members have sounded the alarm on a potentially devastating health care tidal wave. A stunning 80% of IAVA members report that they were exposed to toxins during their combat deployments and 63% report associated symptoms already. So we set out to build a coalition of the willing, and worked with two outstanding allies from both sides of the aisle to be our champions in Congress. We’ve called for fire–and rounds are now inbound. We’ve now got historic legislation to begin to tackle this silent enemy that could impact millions of us for decades to come. Today, IAVA and two dozen veterans and military organizations are proud to stand with our fellow Post-9/11 veterans, Representatives Gabbard and Mast, Army Iraq and Afghanistan veterans respectively, to introduce a bill to finally appropriately focus on burn pits. It’s an important first salvo in what could be a fight to last a generation,” said IAVA Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff.
“We cannot afford to wait 30 more years to see if burn pits and other toxic exposures are indeed at the root of our health challenges, like it did for the Vietnam generation. Post-9/11 veterans are suffering and dying now. We need a foundation of strong research to prepare for what could be decades of health effects. A definitive link between exposure and specific illnesses has not been established. And the VA’s Burn Pit Registry is not well-known and underutilized. That means data on exposures is not being collected at levels needed to inform policy and spur action. And DoD has never taken real accountability of toxic exposures by theater location for deployed servicemembers. This bill takes an incremental, but critical step toward increased research and awareness, and eventually, treatment for affected veterans. As Memorial Day approaches, we are thankful to stand with our brothers and sisters in arms today to bring much need attention to this issue,” added IAVA Chief Policy Officer, Melissa Bryant.
“I served more than five years in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said retired General and IAVA Board Member, David H. Petraeus, whose service included serving as Commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) during the Surge of 2007-2008 and as Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) during the Surge in Afghanistan of 2010-2011. “I was concerned about the effects of burn pits on our soldiers and civilians then (and raised those concerns at the time), and I continue to be concerned about the effects on those who spent periods in either country exposed to the smoke from waste pits and other sources.”
“Veterans are currently experiencing illnesses that likely are related to exposure to toxins in the war zones,” General Petraeus observes, “and swift action is needed to understand the impact on health of exposure to smoke from burn pits and other sources. That is why I support the bipartisan Burn Pits Accountability Act. It will mandate the data collection needed to help understand the effects of exposure to toxins on our men and women who were in the war zones and contribute to the development of appropriate medical treatments for them. I hope all members of Congress will stand with IAVA and our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and support this important bill.”
Background: The Burn Pits Accountability Act (H.R. 5671) would evaluate the exposure of U.S. servicemembers and veterans to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals by:
Requiring the Secretary of Defense to record whether servicemembers have been based or stationed at a location where an open burn pit was used or exposed to toxic airborne chemicals, including any information recorded as part of the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, in the Periodic Health Assessment (PHAs), Separation History and Physical Examination (SHPEs), and Post-Deployment Health Assessment (PDHAs).
Enrolling any servicemember who meets the above criteria in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, unless he or she opts-out.
Requiring the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to share information relating to exposure of burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals recorded in PHAs, SHPEs, and PDHAs.
The Burn Pits Accountability Act (H.R. 5671) is also supported by numerous veterans and veteran service organizations including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Fleet Reserve Association, Military Officers Association of America, US Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Non Commissioned Officers Association, Service Women’s Action Network, US Army Warrant Officer Association, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the US, The Retired Enlisted Association, Chief Warrant Officer Association- US Coast Guard, Air Force Sergeants Association, National Military Family Association, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Wounded Warrior Project, Vietnam Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMSUS, American Veterans, Reserve Officers Association of the United States, Air Force Women Officers Associated, and Disabled American Veterans.
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