New Plan Could Grant Benefits to Veterans Affected by Burn PitsWednesday, May 26, 2021
A sweeping new proposal being introduced by Senate leaders, could potentially grant presumptive benefits to veterans for a number of respiratory illnesses for all veterans who served in overseas conflicts in the last 31 years. The True Cost of War Recognition Act represents the most ambitious attempt by Congress to address burn pits and their impact on the health of veterans.
Veterans suffering from high blood pressure would also be granted the same presumptive status for their disability claims, which would lead to billions more in payouts. Over the years, outside groups have successfully lobbied to broaden the number of illnesses linked to the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. However, hypertension has remained off the list, with the VA choosing not to accept a number of external scientific studies that have shown strong links between Agent Orange exposure and hypertension.
In addition, advocates have complained for years that the VA has done too little to react to the rising cases of unusual and serious illnesses among veterans who worked near burn pits.
The VA has long held that the proper scientific evidence is lacking to determine whether certain illnesses should be covered. Furthermore, they claim to lack a true understanding of what contaminants troops were actually exposed to during service.
The new law would reclassify nine new lung illnesses as presumed connected to burn pit exposure. These include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, constrictive bronchiolitis, emphysema, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, interstitial lung disease and sarcoidosis. Respiratory cancer or glioblastoma would also be given presumptive benefits status.
Presumptive distinction for these conditions is incredibly important as it means that a given veteran only needs to show that they’ve contracted one of the illnesses during or after service to be granted benefits. This is a change from the current system in which a given veteran must first prove that their condition is directly connected to their time in service. For many, this process has been a nightmare of combing through military records, some of which have deteriorated or disappeared over the years.
The new legislation would grant eligibility for veterans who served in the locations listed below:
- Iraq, from August 1990 to March 1991 and from March 2003 until present day
- Afghanistan, from September 2001 until present day
- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar from August 1990 until present day
- Djibouti, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Yemen from September 2001 until present day
- Any other area later determined by a federal agency where burn pits were used by the military overseas
The new legislation is set to go to the floor next week for public debate with the hope of committee votes on the idea before Memorial Day. If the entire package is on the desk of the president by the end of the year, implementation of the new presumptive rules would likely push payouts to late 2022 at the earliest.