WASHINGTON, D.C. ― At two events Tuesday on Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) continued his push to improve care for veterans affected by exposure to toxic fumes from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan: during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, and at the 2019 Congressional Burn Pits Briefing.
During the hearing, Udall questioned Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie on his commitment to continuing burn pit exposure research and urged Wilkie to recognize burn pit exposure as a presumed service-connected condition, a standard that would sufficiently acknowledge the negative effects of burn pits and would make it easier for veterans to receive care.
“Last year’s appropriation of $27 million supports a partnership between the VA and [Department of Energy] for Big Data Science. And much of the work is being done by researchers at New Mexico’s own Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. I would encourage you to continue and increase your work with the national labs. Do you support making the Big Data Science program an annual appropriation? To expand the program to benefit more veterans? For instance, expand data analysis of veterans who were exposed to burn pits?,” Udall asked Wilkie.
Wilkie responded that he “would not see what happened to veterans from Vietnam and Agent Orange happen again,” referring to the veterans exposed to Agent Orange who had to endure decades of delay before finally receiving VA care and benefits. Wilkie committed to “doing everything [VA] can so we don’t see a repeat of what happened with Agent Orange.”