WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a $738 billion defense bill that includes two key provisions to eliminate existing burn pits and require the Defense Department to map out where troops were exposed to toxic fumes.
The two provisions introduced by Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., could set the foundation for veterans to claim disabilities after falling ill to health hazards caused by burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Egypt.
"We took an important step toward ending the military’s use of toxic burn pits and helping burn pit exposed veterans get the care and benefits they need,” Ruiz said.
The Defense Department banned most burn pits in combat zones amid a whirlwind of lawsuits and claims from post-9/11 veterans that their health took a toll after exposure. Now the military mostly uses clean-burning incinerators. But the Pentagon’s policy gives wiggle room in areas where burn pits are the only feasible way of getting rid of waste. In places where troops are operating in austere conditions installing incinerators might not be possible.
In an April 2019 report to Congress, the Defense Department acknowledged burn pits are a health risk to troops. The report found there are nine burn pits still in operation — seven are in Syria and there’s one in Afghanistan and another in Egypt, which are the burn pits that Ruiz’s provision sets to eliminate.
However, even if the Defense Department compiled a list of burn pits, there could be a number of dead ends with the data. But without any formal mapping, it can be difficult for veterans to prove they served near a burn pit.