Bill introduced to fight Agent Orange of Post-9/11 vets — burn pits

Elizabeth Howe
January 18, 2019 - 10:29 am

Photo courtesy of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

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Over 140,000 servicemembers and veterans have reported exposure to burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals over the past three decades. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to health effects like neurological disorders, rare forms of cancer, lung diseases, and more — making burn pits the Agent Orange of the Post-9/11 generation.

So, yesterday, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D - Hawaii) and Rep. Brian Mast (R - Fl.) — along with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America — introduced the Burn Pits Accountability Act (HR 5671). The bipartisan bill calls for evaluation of the extent of the exposure of US servicemembers to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals. 

“I was deployed with many veterans who were exposed to burn pits for extended periods of time every single day," Rep. Gabbard said. "It was just a part of our everyday lives while serving there. This exposure is now proving to result in debilitating and potentially deadly illnesses for many. This is the Agent Orange of our generation, and the VA needs to take action now to collect data and information on veterans who were exposed to burn pits, so we can document the impact and make sure our brothers and sisters are cared for.  Our legislation is an urgent and critical step toward getting them the care they need and deserve.”

This is far from the debut of burn pits in legislation. Gabbard and Mast tried to push through a similar bill last May. It quickly gained support from 160 co-sponsors and 25 VSOs. Unfortunately, it was introduced too late and required further research, according to Tom Porter, the legislative director for IAVA. 

“It would have had a better chance to be included at the last minute like we were aiming to, but the bill had not had a hearing yet, it was just introduced,” Porter said in November. 

RELATED: Congress leaves veterans out in the cold on burn pits

The legislation would require more thorough research into the adverse health impacts of exposure among veterans and service members, and to generate more data on how best to treat illnesses associated such exposure — which is exactly what this new legislation is calling for.

HR 5671 would evaluate the exposure of servicemembers to open burn pits and chemicals by:

  • Requiring the Secretary of Defense to record whether servicemembers have been based or stationed at a location where an open burn pit was used or exposed  to toxic airborne chemicals
  • Enrolling any servicemember who meets the above criteria in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, unless he or she opts-out
  • Requiring the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to share information relating to exposure of burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals recorded

And, of course, it would help the 140,000 veterans who have reported exposure to burn pits — and the estimated 3.5 million more who have been affected. 

“When I was serving in Afghanistan, trash and human waste were often burned in open air pits,” Rep. Mast said. “I think it’s quickly becoming clear that these burn pits are emerging as the Agent Orange of my generation.  Service members that were exposed in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeing terrible health effects at a very young age. These men and women risked their lives for our country, and this bipartisan legislation will go a long way toward getting them the care they have earned.”

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