All U.S. veterans of every recent war, their families and doctors are absolutely right to question the Department of Defense and the U.S. military’s commitment to them. When politicians talk about how we owe them, and thank them for their service, every American should question what action they have taken as opposed to the words they speak.
Veterans suffering from illnesses caused by exposure to burn pits during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are especially vulnerable, and that means every veteran who served in either country, where the U.S. military maintained dozens of burn pits — football-field sized areas — where everything from chemical weapons to computer hardware was burned, created a toxic smoke in direct proximity to where soldiers and Marines lived and worked.
Veterans are dying from illnesses — rare cancers and other horrible diseases that can be traced to exposure — every day. For other veterans, the fear of developing these illnesses is very real. For more than a decade, families have been fighting for benefits they are being denied, for the VA to recognize, track and treat these illnesses. And, sometimes veterans are forced to hide their illnesses to preserve what VA benefits they do have, including preserving their life insurance benefits.
Veterans and families fear the Department of Defense is intentionally denying burn pits illnesses from toxic exposures to avoid the liability of caring for veterans, as casualties mount, and Congress is a willing co-conspirator. The DoD is refusing to acknowledge burn pits illnesses in the same way it fought covering illnesses related to exposure to Agent Orange, a tactical herbicide used to destroy trees and vegetation during the Vietnam War.
Veterans sick from exposure to burn pits — the ones who have not yet died — have been asking the DoD to acknowledge, track and treat their illnesses for more than a decade. The response has been systematic denial of their requests. The military has controlled the information Congress gets about burn pits illnesses, but Congress has been a willing stooge in this shameful betrayal of the men and women who did their duty to this country.
The responses (and nonresponses) the Register received from U.S. senators who serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee show a callous disregard for our veterans, a fake lip service to their needs, and a disappointing lack of courage. We appreciate U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s efforts asking for hearings during which veterans, their families and physicians will be allowed to testify, but the response from members of the Senate committee tell us it won’t happen without a serious push from the public.
We urge you to call members of the committee and tell them to let veterans testify. The time to do right by our men and women who served this country is right now — not in a year, or two years — and these senators should be called out for not supporting our troops.