U.S. Representatives Brian Mast (FL-18) and Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) yesterday introduced bipartisan legislation to evaluate the exposure of U.S. service members and veterans to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals. Over 140,000 service members and veterans have reported exposure to burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals over the past three decades. 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.
“When I was serving in Afghanistan, trash and human waste were often burned in open air pits,” Rep. Mast said. “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, and we must do more to get them the care they have earned.”
“When I was deployed to Iraq, the cloud of toxic smoke and fumes from the massive burn pit in our camp was a daily reality,” Rep. Gabbard said. “I know the damage they cause. I’ve seen the devastating toll that’s taken on my brothers and sisters in arms who survived combat and came home, but are now suffering from rare cancers, lung diseases, neurological disorders and more. Today, my colleague and fellow veteran, Brian Mast, are reintroducing burn pit legislation, joined by Senators Klobuchar and Sullivan in the Senate, to make sure they get the services they have earned.”
The Burn Pits Accountability Act would evaluate the exposure of U.S. service members and veterans to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals by:
- Requiring the Secretary of Defense to record whether service members 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 service member 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 bill was introduced in the Senate by Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Dan Sullivan (AK):
“We must do right by the brave men and women who serve our country and do everything we can to protect their health,” Sen. Klobuchar said. “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.”
“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,” Sen. Sullivan said. “I am pleased to once again work with Senator Klobuchar on this bipartisan legislation that would help keep our service members healthy and safe by ensuring exposure to toxic airborne chemicals from burn pits is identified and studied.”
The bill is supported by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA):
“IAVA members have been telling us their health concerns from toxic exposures for the last 15 years, and many veterans who I have served with are now becoming sick with cancers and respiratory illnesses,” IAVA Chief Policy Officer Melissa Bryant said. “With 80% of IAVA members reporting exposure to burn pits and 63% reporting associated symptoms, we know the time to act is now. I often wonder how my own health will continue to be affected in the years to come. As the daughter of Vietnam veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange, I’ve observed how toxic exposures can plague you for decades long after the wars we fight in?and we know burn pits could be our generation’s Agent Orange. IAVA applauds fellow post-9/11 veterans, Representative Gabbard, Representative Mast and Senator Sullivan for re-introducing this landmark, bipartisan legislation. And we thank Sen. Klobuchar for her tireless championship to help veterans suffering from injuries due to burn pits and toxic exposures. This legislation will dramatically increase the quantity and quality of research and data about these exposures and how they have impacted our service members. We urge all Members of Congress to sign onto this bill immediately, and to pass it before the end of this year.”