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Veterans Burn Pit


Since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, nearly three million members of the armed forces have deployed overseas to serve their country. Many veterans face terrible personal and economic challenges upon returning home. Thousands have serious health complications.

There are over 100 bills pending in Congress that attempt to address issues that U.S. veterans are facing. If we chose the veterans topics, we would focus on the most meaningful bills that have bipartisan support.

An example of one such bill would address the problem of veterans who don’t have homes. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, over 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Of the male homeless population, 20% are veterans. Of the homeless veterans, 45% are Black or Hispanic despite only accounting for 10% and 3% of the U.S. veteran population respectively.

On March 5, 2021, Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the Improving Housing Outcomes for Veterans Act to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is providing needed care for veterans experiencing homelessness. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), David Joyce (D-OH), Bill Johnson (R-OH), and Brian Kirkpatrick (R-PA). This legislation follows a May 2020 Government Accountability Office report that found shortcomings in the Veterans Health Administration, whose Homeless Program Office administers programs to support veterans experiencing homelessness in collaboration with local partners and other federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Passing this bill would ensure that the VA implements needed changes and provides services for veterans experiencing homelessness. The American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and The Fleet Reserve Association have expressed their support for this legislation.

Another bipartisan veterans’ bill of interest was announced on February 24, 2021, by Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), both members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. They reintroduced the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act, which addresses a barrier currently preventing many veterans from getting Department of Veterans Affairs health care and benefits for illnesses and diseases related to exposure to burn pits. The bill would recognize and concede their exposure during deployed service.

Open air burn pits were commonly used in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of waste, including rubber, chemicals, paint, plastics, petroleum products, and medical and human waste.  Consequently, burn pits often exposed the men and women deployed to toxic substances.  Because the contents of any given burn pit and the amount of exposure a particular service member had are difficult to document in wartime conditions, it has been difficult to prove definitively the health consequences in particular cases.  Nevertheless, there is a growing consensus that burn pit exposure causes a wide variety of health impacts, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, high blood pressure, and liver conditions.  More than 200,000 have joined the VA Airborne Hazards and Open Pit Registry.

The legislation is endorsed by Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, The Retired Enlisted Association, Wounded Warrior Project, and the Military Officers Association of America and was previously cosponsored by 30 members of the Senate in the 116th Congress, when it unanimously passed out of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.