June 30, 2021

Gillibrand: As Landmark Veterans Toxic Exposure Bill Heads To House Vote, Senate Must Act Swiftly To Protect Toxic-Exposed Vets

Comprehensive House Bill Contains Gillibrand Bill to Provide Benefits to Veterans Sick From Their Exposure

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today applauded the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs vote to send the Honoring Our PACT Act to a full floor vote. The package includes the bipartisan and bicameral Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act, which would help approximately 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while serving overseas.

Addressing the bill’s advancement, Gillibrand released the following statement: “I want to applaud my House colleagues for sending the comprehensive Honoring Our PACT legislative package to the floor for a vote to address toxic exposure. The package includes presumptive coverage for all of the diseases in my Senate bill. Passing this bill in the House will bring us one step closer to turning this legislation into reality.

“We can’t let history repeat itself for the veterans of the War on Terror. They don’t have years or decades to wait. When I met Mark Jackson, an Army combat veteran who served at K2, he talked about how the ground oozed black goo and the air hung heavy and ashen. He remembered how the black smoke and soot from the burn pits fell like snow, clinging to soldiers’ skin, clothes, tents, and lungs. He also talked about the fellow soldiers who he has since lost to ALS, to heart disease, and to glioblastoma.

“These veterans did their job. Now it’s time for the government to do ours. We sent these brave service members on tours of duty and exposed them to dangerous conditions. We allowed the military to set up burn pits and light everything from electronics to tires to human waste on fire with jet fuel. We asked these men and women to live and breathe in poison air, whether it was from burn pits on bases across the globe or toxic exposure on K2. We owe them this care. This is the true cost of war and we must recognize that.

“Now it’s time for the Senate to step up and get this bill passed.”

Background

The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act was introduced earlier this year by a bipartisan and bicameral coalition that included Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Marco Rubio, Congressmen Raul Ruiz and Brian Fitzpatrick, comedian and activist Jon Stewart, 9/11 activist John Feal, and several veterans organizations, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Burn Pits 360, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and more.  

The bill would streamline the process for veterans to obtain benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for illness due to exposure to burn pit and other toxic exposures and would remove the “burden of proof” from the veteran to provide enough evidence to establish a direct service connection between their health condition and exposure. Rather, the veteran would only need to submit documentation that they received a campaign medal associated with the Global War on Terror or the Gulf War and they suffer from a qualifying health condition. Campaign medals are awarded to members of the armed forces who deploy for military operations in a designated combat zone or geographical theater.

The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act would cover a wide range of cancers and respiratory illnesses as presumptive conditions, including: asthma, that was diagnosed after service, head cancer of any type, neck cancer of any type, respiratory cancer of any type, gastrointestinal cancer of any type, reproductive cancer of any type, lymphoma cancer of any type, lymphoma cancer of any type, kidney cancer, brain cancer, melanoma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis.

The following organizations support the bill: IAVA, The American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Wounded Warrior Project, Reserve Officers Association, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Burn Pits 360, Green Beret Foundation, Go2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, Dixon Center, National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), Military Veterans Advocacy, Veterans for Common Sense, Sgt. Sullivan Circle, Vote Vets, Stronghold Freedom Foundation, Grunt Style, Cease Fire Campaign, Veteran Warriors Inc., National Association County Veterans Service Officers, Feal Good Foundation, Blinded Veterans Association.