WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the leading post-9/11 veterans empowerment organization, applauded the U.S. Senate passage of the landmark Burn Pits Accountability Act on Tuesday, requiring the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to account for service members’ exposure to airborne toxins while deployed.
The Burn Pits Accountability Act is sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Brian Mast (R-FL), and is supported by more than 230 members of the House and Senate from both parties. The measure was passed by the Senate within the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“For too long, the dangerous impacts of toxic exposures have been understudied and unaccounted for among our veterans and servicemembers. This legislation is a significant step on a path to ensure that millions of men and women get the care they need after their service and sacrifice to our country,” said IAVA CEO Jeremy Butler. “We urge the House to swiftly pass the Burn Pit Accountability Act to address this critical and growing threat to veteran health.”
The Burn Pits Accountability Act directs DoD to include in periodic health assessments an evaluation of whether a service member has been exposed to open burn pits or toxic airborne chemicals. If they report being exposed, they will be enrolled in the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry unless they opt out.
Burn pits were a common way to get rid of garbage, human waste, petroleum, rubber and other debris at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan, which released toxic fumes into the air. Three million men and women have been deployed overseas under the DoD since the 9/11 attacks; during these deployments, many service members lived, worked, and exercised near burn pits. After returning home, many of these same servicemembers began developing health issues that may be tied to these toxic exposures. There are also other hazards beyond burn pits that occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan that may also pose a danger for respiratory illnesses, including inhaled irritant gases, high levels of fine dust, heavy metals due to operations in urban environments, plus the potential impact to the respiratory system from the effects of explosives and the inhalation of depleted uranium used in munitions. DoD failed to track burn pit or airborne toxic exposures; even now, a full list of burn pit sites is not publicly available from DoD.
“We must do right by the brave men and women who serve our country and do everything we can to protect their health. The bipartisan Burn Pits Accountability Act will allow us to gather the information we need to monitor, evaluate, and eventually treat the devastating health effects of burn pits on our service members. By learning from our past mistakes, we can prevent toxic burn pits from becoming this generation’s Agent Orange,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar.
“As a member of both the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services Committees, it’s my priority to support our service members from the day they enter military service through the transition into civilian life and beyond. I am pleased to see that the Senate-passed FY 2020 NDAA includes our bipartisan legislation to help keep our service members healthy and safe by ensuring exposure to toxic airborne chemicals from burn pits is identified and studied,” said Senator Dan Sullivan.
The VA estimates 3.5 million veterans are eligible to register in the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, which tracks exposures to airborne toxins. However, because enrollment is voluntary, the Registry is not well-known. It has only received 178,000 responses since going live in 2014. Encouragingly, the number enrolled has risen by more than 30,000 since IAVA launched its nationwide burn pit campaign in 2018.
Support for injuries from burn pits and other toxic exposures is one of IAVA’s Big 6 Advocacy priorities for 2019, focused on the Post-9/11 generation of veterans, and veterans of all eras. More details are available on our Big 6 Advocacy Priorities and in the IAVA Policy Agenda.
- Combat Suicide Among Troops and Veterans
- Reform the VA for Today’s Veterans
- Initiate Support for Injuries from Burn Bits
- Defend Veteran and Military Education Benefits
- Recognize and Improve Services for Women Veterans
- Establish Support for Veterans who Want to Utilize Medical Cannabis
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is the premier veterans advocacy and support organization on the planet. Founded by an Iraq veteran in 2004, IAVA is the non-partisan leader in advocacy, public awareness, and 1-on-1 case management support. Our mission is to connect, unite, and empower over 425,000 veterans and allies nationwide. We have connected more than 1.2 million veterans with resources and community, and provided thousands of veterans of all generations with life-saving and life-changing personalized support from our Masters-level social service professionals.
Learn more at iava.org.
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