A bipartisan group of congressmen is pressuring the Department of Veterans Affairs to extend health benefits and disability compensation automatically to veterans battling illnesses thought to be caused by exposure to open-air burn pits.
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida, and Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-California, have both introduced legislation that would direct the VA to study illnesses thought to be related to exposure to the toxic fumes emitted by waste disposal sites in Iraq and Afghanistan and designate any linked illnesses as presumed to be caused by exposure, thereby automatically qualifying affected veterans for VA health care and disability benefits.
Both also have signed on to support each other's bills, while Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Rep. Peter King, R-New York; and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania, have thrown support behind Ruiz's bill.
Bilirakis, who introduced the same measure in 2018, said the government needs to heed the lessons of Vietnam veterans, who fought nearly 20 years to establish a presumptive service link for exposure to Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides.
"It's not a coincidence that so many of the exposed veterans are all suffering from the same diseases," Bilirakis said in a statement last month. "We saw similar patterns with veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange in earlier wars. Sadly, many of those veterans died while the VA took decades to study the issue."