IAVA calls on Congress to pass burn pit legislation

Matt Saintsing
August 02, 2018 - 11:28 am

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz / Released

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Countless veterans have been exposed to deadly chemicals found in clouds of smoke that billowed from burn-pits during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association is calling on vets to push their Congress members to pass legislation.

As many as 3.5 million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and service members have been exposed to burn pits, but only about 151,000 are on in the VA registry—a figure IAVA said is “abysmal.”  IAVA is urging veterans exposed to airborne toxins from burn-pits to add their names to the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry whether experiencing symptoms or not.

“We will not let burn pits and toxic exposure suffered by the post-9/11 generation become our generation’s Agent Orange,” said Iraq war veteran Melissa Bryant, who oversees IAVA’s policy division. 

About a quarter of the House, 111 Representatives, have co-sponsored the Burn Pits Accountability Act, and similar legislation was introduced in the Senate earlier this month. The bill was spearheaded by Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Brian Mast (R-Fla.), both Afghanistan and Iraq veterans.  

The legislation would require the Defense Department to track whether a service member had been at a location where burn pits were used. Additionally, veterans and service members already exposed would be added to the registry, unless they choose to opt out, with the intent to collect and analyze that data. A clear link between certain illnesses and exposure to burn-pits has not been identified, and the bill aims to create a “presumption of exposure,” similar to those who served on the ground in Vietnam exposed to Agent Orange.

80 percent of IAVA members report being exposed to burn pits, according to their most recent survey, and 63 percent claim symptoms from toxic exposure. “I count myself among that 63 percent,” added Bryant. 

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) has identified about 2,000 families whose loves ones have died from burn pit exposure. “Some deaths have been identified as service-connected, but many have not,” said Kathy Moakler, director of relations and policy analysis at TAPS. 

But toxic exposure isn’t just from burning trash and human waste. Some service members were exposed to deadly doses of chemicals found in uranium depleted weapons and oil refineries, in addition to the 260 open air burn pits on military bases worldwide.  

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Jeff Philips is the executive director of the Reserve Officers Association, and he called the proposed legislation, a “failure of the executive branch” and a “sobering condition of affairs.” 

At least a few thousand veterans are suffering from illnesses related to burn-pit exposure, according to a 2015 study conducted by the VA. Everything from excess equipment, classified computer hard drives, and human waste has been doused with jet fuel and set ablaze, sending countless toxic particles airborne where it was then breathed in by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

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