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New Landmark Legislation to Remove “Burden of Proof” From Veterans Seeking Coverage for Burn Pit Exposure

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s new legislation received a big push this week. In a press conference on Tuesday she urged the bill’s passing to streamline the process for veterans to obtain benefits. Gillibrand was joined by Jon Stewart, a longtime supporter of veterans, especially those affected by toxic exposure. Congressman Raul Ruiz, former VA Secretary David Shulkin, advocate John Feal, and other veterans advocates were also in attendance at the press conference in support of the bill. 

The legislation is called the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2020. The core of the bill lies in a provision that would remove what is called “burden of proof” from veterans who are seeking coverage for health conditions related to toxic exposure. If the bill were to pass, veterans would only have to provide evidence of deployment to one of the 34 countries named in the bill or have receipt of a service-medal from the Global War on Terror or the Gulf War. 

During these wars, the military used open-air burn pits to burn garbage, medical waste, plastics, and other waste from military bases. The harmful impacts on the health of servicemembers exposed has long been established and it is estimated that more that 3.5 million military personal may have been exposed in these wars. Over 212,000 veterans and service members have submitted a questionnaire to self-report medical information about burn pit exposure. 

Historically, the VA has denied many veteran’s access to health benefits through the VA, arguing for a lack of causal evidence between exposure and the given condition. The law currently forces veterans to establish a direct service connection to be eligible for benefits. Gillibrand’s bill, if passed, would be a complete overhaul of the system that is currently in place. 

The list of territories in the bill include: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Diego Garcia, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen. 

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