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Veteran Advocacy Groups Push for Burn Pit Legislation

Several veteran advocacy groups including Burn Pits 360 and GruntStyle, gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday. They were there to voice unified support for Burn Pit legislation, specifically for the bipartisan and bicameral Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters to Burn Pits and Other Toxins bill, which was recently introduced by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Their efforts were bolstered by celebrity comedian Jon Stewart who has used his star power to support legislation for years. After 9/11 his focus was on providing care and benefits for first responders. Now, his focus has shifted to veterans. “You spend your time when you come back home basically as a defendant in a trial for your own health care and health,” he said on Tuesday. “They have to come home and fight against the very government that they volunteered to defend,” he continued.

Gillibrand voiced her support on Tuesday as well, stating that “Our veterans coming home from war today, have to start a battle with the VA for the care and benefits they’ve earned.” She dubbed the situation a moral outrage.

The bill, that has been introduced in the house of representatives, would provide presumptive VA benefits to service members who have deployed and have illness due to burn pits and other toxins. This bill could affect the approximately 3.5 million veterans that have been exposed to burn pits.

Also on Tuesday, Gina Cancelino recalled memories of her husband Joseph, a Marine veteran who died of an aggressive form of cancer in 2019. The family knew nothing about his exposure to toxic burn pits in Iraq until shortly before he died.

Mark T. Jackson, army combat, was there as well to represent the 15,000 veterans of the K2 Air Base in Uzbekistan. Jackson said that the ground they stood on at K2 “oozed black goo, and the air hung heavy and ashen.” Throughout the day, the standing water at the site would change colors and yellow cake uranium gathered in radioactive clumps, according to Jackson. “The burn pits sent back smoke and soot like relentless snow that clung to our clothes, our tents and our lungs. It’s killing us now,” he said.

Jackson went further to discuss his own personal illnesses related to toxic exposure during his service. “My doctor says I have the bones of an 80-year-old woman. I’m 43 years old,”

Navy Veteran Tom Porter said that 86% of respondents to a recent IAVA survey of post-9/11 veterans said they had been exposed to burn pits. Of that group, 89% say that they have health care problems related to those exposures. When this group attempts to get coverage from the VA for their illnesses, they get denied 80% of the time.

What’s more concerning is that some veterans may never be fully aware of all they have been exposed to as a result of their service. They could be experiencing the health impacts without even knowing what has caused them, and ultimately have no chance of receiving coverage. Associate Director of National Legislative Services for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Kayda Keleher, brought up this very problem and went on to say that “We must not let burn pits become the next Agent Orange.”

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