Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand welcomed the VA’s announcement that it had added nine rare respiratory cancers to the list of presumed service-connected disabilities due to toxic exposure; however, Gillibrand stated in no uncertain terms that Congress must do more to take care of the more than three million service members and veterans who could have suffered from burn pit exposure.
“The VA’s announcement that it will add presumptive care for nine rare respiratory cancers is welcome news, but Congress must do much more to uphold our duty to the millions of service members who could have been exposed to toxic burn pits,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The House-passed Honoring Our PACT Act included my bipartisan War Fighters bill, which would finally establish a presumptive service connection for veterans exposed to burn pits, many of whom are sick or dying. This is the gold standard; it is what our veterans have earned, and our bipartisan coalition will not stop fighting until this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law.”
In March 2022, the House of Representatives passed the Honoring Our PACT Act, which included provisions of Senator Gillibrand’s Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act. Gillibrand originally introduced the bipartisan and bicameral War Fighters Act alongside Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Congressman Raul Ruiz (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).
The bill would create a presumptive service connection for over 20 categories of diseases and streamline the process for veterans to obtain benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It 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 War Fighters 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, lymphomatic 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, and 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, VoteVets, Stronghold Freedom Foundation, Grunt Style, Cease Fire Campaign, Veteran Warriors Inc., National Association County Veterans Service Officers, FealGood Foundation, Blinded Veterans Association.