July 15, 2022

ICYMI: Buffalo News Editorial Board Praises Landmark Burn Pits Legislation

In case you missed it, The Buffalo News published an editorial praising the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, a key cornerstone of which is Senator Gillibrand’s bipartisan Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act, which establishes a presumptive service connection for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins. The measure would help millions of service members and veterans who have been exposed to the toxic fumes from burn pits access medical care. The Senate approved the PACT Act last month and the bill is expected to become law later this summer.  

Read the full text of the editorial here or below:

The Buffalo News | Congress nears passage of essential bill to treat illnesses caused by burn pits

The Editorial Board, July 14th, 2022

It’s hard to fathom, sometimes, the way this country treats – or fails to treat – its veterans. There is welcome news. Congress is poised to act on the damage caused by burn pits.

Burn pits were the places where troops burned anything from fuel, furniture, metals, plastics and anything else. More than 3 million veterans have been exposed to the often dangerous fumes from those pits since the 1991 Gulf War, according to the government.

For those like Thomas U. Kim, a former Army Reserve officer who served in Iraq and is now president and CEO of the Community Action Organization of Western New York, the movement on this issue is a relief.

Speaking to News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski about his experience, Kim observed that many veterans experienced worse symptoms than his own allergies or allergy-like symptoms. They ranged, he said, from upper respiratory problems to cancer.

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, which the Senate last month overwhelmingly approved, addresses the needs of veterans exposed to burn pits. It adds 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers to the list of conditions that are considered service-connected. Veterans exposed to those conditions can automatically receive VA health care and disability benefits.

Despite a parliamentary glitch in the Senate’s action, both houses of Congress are expected to approve the measure later this summer. That will help to rectify the wrong imposed when the VA denied 80% of the claims for disability benefits connected to burn pit smoke and other toxins. The number of claims approved most certainly will escalate but the VA – and the country – owes this care to its veterans.

Democrat Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand doesn’t have to be told. The senator, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, has been a vocal advocate on the issue, teaming with comedian Jon Stewart advocating for the bill’s passage.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat, has also been a champion on the issue and most recently commented on the 3.5 million veterans across America who have been exposed to toxins from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and, as the senator noted, “in the line of duty.”

The measure has another attribute worthy of support: It expands disability coverage for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant. While Vietnam veterans have long been eligible for disability coverage, the pending measure expands eligibility to veterans who served in other places where the defoliant was used: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam and American Samoa.

While there is minimal opposition to the bill, it is worth noting Sen. Pat Toomey’s concerns about the measure’s cost. It’s not an illegitimate concern, but the Pennsylvania Republican should worry more about the veterans who have gone too long without the disability coverage they should have received.

If he wants any assurance that this is the right thing to do, then look no further than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, who backs the bill, along with Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees.