A sweeping measure was introduced in the Senate Friday that could open up health care and disability compensation to a huge swath of veterans made sick by burn pits and other toxic exposures during military service.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., reintroduced the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act, which would do away with most of the burden of proof on veterans to show they got sick from breathing in burning garbage for up to a year at a time while deployed.
The measure was also introduced last year and never got any serious traction. This year, its bipartisan sponsorship means it could have a better chance of becoming law.
Veteran advocates have grown increasingly impatient, faulting Congress for being unable to pass any significant legislation that delivers care and compensation to veterans made sick by exposure to burn pits and other toxic environments. The VA has also not issued clear guidance on who can get compensation for toxic exposure.
The VA estimates 3.5 million veterans have been exposed to burn pits, according to a 2015 report. Yet the department has denied claims of roughly 75% of veterans. As of January, the VA had approved claims related to burn-pit exposure for 3,442 veterans out of 13,830. It is unlikely the data paints a complete picture. It’s unclear how many suffer from serious burn pit-connected health ailments, or how many veterans are sick and unaware that illness is linked to service abroad.