U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) applauded the Senate passage of their bipartisan legislation to help veterans who have been exposed to toxic burn pits as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018. The Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act would create a center of excellence within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to better understand the health effects associated with burn pits and treat veterans who become sick after exposure.
“Many of our brave men and women in uniform were exposed to harmful substances from toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we have an obligation to care for them,” said Senator Tillis. “Understanding the health effects associated with exposure to burn pits is the beginning of that commitment, and I am proud this provision was included in the final version of the NDAA’s Senate passage. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure this legislation is signed into law soon so we can begin providing resources to the VA and provide treatment to veterans who became sick after exposure.”
“It took the government years after the Vietnam War to recognize that there was a link between Agent Orange and the devastating health effects on our soldiers. We can’t let history repeat itself—burn pits can’t become today’s Agent Orange,” Senator Klobuchar said. “That’s why passing this bipartisan bill to support our nation’s heroes – who served in Iraq and Afghanistan – along with their families, has remained one of my top priorities. We need to better understand and address the relationship between burn pit exposure and the health needs of our brave men and women in uniform, and this bill will help accomplish that.”
The burning of waste on military bases exposed many service members to a variety of potentially harmful substances. Plastic, aerosol cans, electronic equipment, human waste, tires, and batteries were thrown into open pits, often doused with jet fuel, and set on fire. As a result, many deployed soldiers were exposed to smoke from these open-air burn pits. Health effects from exposure to chemicals found in burn pits may include cancer, neurological effects, reproductive effects, respiratory toxicity, and cardiovascular toxicity. Troops who have worked in these areas are subject to higher rates of asthma, emphysema, and rare lung disorders.
Original co-sponsors of this legislation include Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Klobuchar and Tillis also introduced this legislation in the last Congress.