There is some good news for veterans suffering from illnesses from their deployments to Southwest Asia: Some members of Congress are taking notice and working to get them and their families the assistance they need.
While the bills still need to pass the full Congress before being signed into law by the president, congressmen such as U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, say broad support from both the Republican and Democratic parties on behalf of the nation’s veterans is offering some measure of hope for the future.
Castro is currently sponsoring two bills: H.R. 1001, Family Member Access to Burn Pit Registry Act and H.R. 1005, Burn Pit Veterans Revision Act.
H.R. 1001 would allow family members of service members who have died from illnesses and cancers believed to be linked to exposure to the trash-burning pits to update the Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pits Registry with their service member’s death and cause.
H.R. 1005 would allow for constrictive bronchiolitis to be considered presumed as service connected to exposure to open burn pits while deployed by the VA for care and benefits.
More than 3.7 million active-duty service members and veterans have been exposed to the toxic smoke from trash burning pits while serving in areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan during the War on Terror, and many of them are getting sick with illnesses and cancers they can’t explain.
Burn pits were used to destroy plastics, batteries, medical waste, ammunition and everything in between. They were a common way to get rid of waste and helped ensure some items — such as military uniforms and items that could potentially be used against military troops — did not fall into enemy hands. Burn pits have been in use in Southwest Asia since August 1990 at the beginning of Operation Desert Shield and used throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, is also working on the issues.
“As the top Republican on the VA Appropriations Subcommittee, I’ve been working to address burn pit issues through the appropriations process, including providing $10 million for burn-pit related research in the last year. I anticipate that additional funding will be made available in the FY20 legislation for research too,” Carter said in an email.
“The Burn Pit Registration is a critical tool for researchers and it’s imperative to track veterans that are experiencing symptoms linked to burn pits. As the bill stands, I would vote for the Family Member Access to Burn Pit Registry Act, to give family member’s the ability to participate in the registry on behalf of a deceased veteran. The more research we have access to, the better we can address this issue,” Carter said.