Opinion: DOD skipped out on a hearing on burn pits. That’s BS.

Matt Saintsing
June 07, 2018 - 5:58 pm

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

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Frustrated with delay, House lawmakers held a first-of-its-kind hearing Thursday to confront servicemembers’ exposure to the noxious fumes and billowing smoke that gushed from burn pits, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The hearing room was packed with veterans and their family members, but one invited guest decided not to show, and their absence drew harsh criticism by members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee: The Department of Defense.

It was an opportunity for the Pentagon to throw their full weight behind the hundreds of thousands of veterans and current servicemembers who are suffering—often in silence—and to express that the nation who sent them off to war will have their backs.

That didn’t happen. Instead, the dark cloud hovering overhead was not lost on several Committee members, who did not mince words.

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) said the past use of open air burn pits was “essentially deploying chemical and biological weapons against our own troops.” He appeared to be both visibly upset, and genuinely perplexed, as to why the Department would choose to forego the hearing.

“The DOD should hear as the noise of thunder from all of us that they were not present today.”

Afghanistan veteran and former Explosive Ordinance Disposal specialist Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) went a step further, saying, “the chemical attacks we really needed to fear were coming from within our own camps.”

The VA's Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry has more than 141,000 signatures, but estimates of who is impacted by these pits could be in the millions.

“The fact that (DOD) isn’t here does not absolve them of responsibility,” added Rep. Elizabeth Etsy (D-Conn.) “We need to get them back to the table.”

Ralph Erickson, VA’s Chief Consultant for Post- Deployment Health and a Gulf War veteran, said that the agency is committed to solving the problem, but stressed the need for the DOD and VA to work together.

“There needs to be no separation from when someone leaves service to when they go to VA,” for burn pit exposure, he said.

A nice start would be to actually show up.