Lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would recognize the health hazards posed by oil well fires, burn pits and other pollution sources in Afghanistan and much of the Middle East — an effort they say would help ill veterans who apply for VA benefits.
The “Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition” bill, S. 2950, would declare that service members who deployed to the Middle East in the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War and after, to Afghanistan and Djibouti following Sept. 11, 2001, and to Iraq beginning in 2003 were exposed to toxins.
The bill stops short of establishing service connection for specific diseases and does not guarantee disability benefits for ill veterans.
But it would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to concede that veterans were exposed to pollutants if they served in the named locations during the specified time frames, effectively eliminating a need for them to prove that they were in close proximity to a pollution source.
Sponsors Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., say the legislation is needed because currently, VA requires veterans to show evidence of their exposure to support benefits claims and frequently rejects claims on the lack of evidence on exposure.