Veterans advocates on Tuesday launched a new campaign for additional recognition and aid for troops exposed to toxic burn pit fumes during overseas deployments at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, saying time is running out to provide real help to the victims.
“This is not about science, this is about money,” said comedian Jon Stewart in an emotional press conference on Capitol Hill featuring numerous families of dead and dying veterans whose rare illnesses aren’t officially recognized by federal officials as stemming from burn pit exposure.
“Listen to these families … Delaying care and waiting for veterans to die is not a mantle worthy of our country.”
Tuesday’s event coincided with new legislation introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., which would provide presumptive benefit status for any veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the wars, as well as a host of other overseas military sites where burn pits were frequently used.
It can be tough to get treatment for burn pit exposure, but this project helps service members and veterans pinpoint the Pentagon documents that detail their risks.
Advocates for years have criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs for insisting that individuals prove a direct connection between the toxic fumes they breathed during deployments and rare cancers and respiratory illnesses, even though the Defense Department acknowledges little tracking was done over the years to provide a true accounting of the poisons in the air.
“Service members are returning from the battlefield only to become delayed casualties of war,” Ruiz said. “This is the Agent Orange of this generation … We need to be taking care of our veterans and saving lives.”
As many as 3.5 million veterans could be eligible for the benefits under the legislation, if they showed signs of serious, uncommon illnesses believed to be the result of toxic fumes.