The Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act would create a center of excellence within the Department of Veterans Affairs to better understand the health effects associated with burn pits and treat veterans who become sick after exposure
WASHINGTON– U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) announced today that her legislation to help veterans who have been exposed to toxic burn pits has passed the Senate as part of a larger funding bill. The legislation, based on her bipartisan Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act with Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), would create a center of excellence within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to better understand the health effects associated with burn pits and treat veterans who become sick after exposure.
“After the Vietnam War, it took the U.S. government years to recognize that there was a link between Agent Orange and its devastating health effects on our soldiers. With an increasing number of servicemembers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan citing illnesses, we can’t make that same tragic mistake again by failing to identify the devastating health effects associated with burn pits,” Klobuchar said. “This legislation will make sure we have the staff and resources to treat the health problems of our veterans exposed to burn pits. We need to do right by our veterans and ensure they receive the care and support they need when they come home.”
“We have an obligation to care for the brave men and women in uniform who were exposed to harmful substances from toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Tillis said. “This legislation begins the process of fulfilling that obligation so we can better understand the health effects associated with exposure to burn pits and then provide the needed resources to our veterans. I’m proud this legislation passed the Senate, and I look forward to working with Senator Klobuchar and our colleagues to get it signed into law soon.”
The burning of waste on military bases exposed many servicemembers to a variety of potentially harmful substances. Plastic, aerosol cans, electronic equipment, human waste, tires, and batteries were thrown into open pits, often doused with jet fuel, and set on fire. As a result, many deployed soldiers were exposed to smoke from these open-air burn pits. Health effects from exposure to chemicals found in burn pits may include cancer, neurological effects, reproductive effects, respiratory toxicity, and cardiovascular toxicity. Troops who have worked in these areas are subject to higher rates of asthma, emphysema, and rare lung disorders.
Throughout her time in the Senate, Klobuchar has worked across the aisle to modernize G.I. Bill benefits for our troops, strengthen funding for veterans’ health care and improve mental health care for our nation’s soldiers. In April, Klobuchar and Senator Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Department of Veterans Affairs Oversight Enhancement Act of 2018, bipartisan legislation to increase Congressional oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in collaboration with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). In February, Klobuchar and Young led a bipartisan letter urging the VA to give prompt consideration to the recommendations for improving veterans’ access to mental health services as noted in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which highlighted the substantial unmet need for mental health services for veterans who supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She has also authored bipartisan bills on behalf of our nation’s veterans and their families to expand job training and employment opportunities, cut red tape and wait times for veterans scheduling appointments at VA Medical Facilities, and reduce veterans’ homelessness.