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Rep. Gabbard Leads Landmark Burn Pits Legislation in Congress

January 17, 2019, 11:50 AM HST (Updated January 17, 2019, 11:50 AM)
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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, joined by Brian Mast (FL-18) and Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), introduced bipartisan and bicameral legislation to evaluate the exposure of U.S. service members to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019.

Rep. Gabbard, Founder and Co-Chair of the Post-9/11 Veterans Caucus, said:

“Burn pits are the Agent Orange of post 9/11 veterans. Over 165,000 veterans have registered their names in the Burn Pit Registry, something that’s voluntary, but there are millions of our troops who have been exposed to these toxic burn pits during their deployment. They deserve recognition. They deserve care, and they deserve the services they have earned. So far, our government has failed to fulfill its responsibility to them, and to recognize the toxins they have been exposed to—just like what happened to our Vietnam veterans decades ago when our government ignored their exposure and the ensuing illnesses that came from Agent Orange.

“When I was deployed to Iraq, the cloud of toxic smoke and fumes from the massive burn pit in our camp was a daily reality. I know the damage they cause. I’ve seen the devastating toll that’s taken on my brothers and sisters in arms who survived combat and came home, but are now suffering from rare cancers, lung diseases, neurological disorders and more. Today, my colleague and fellow veteran, Brian Mast, are reintroducing burn pit legislation, joined by Senators Klobuchar and Sullivan in the Senate, to make sure they get the services they have earned.”

“When I was serving in Afghanistan, trash and human waste were often burned in open air pits,” said Rep. Mast.“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, and we must do more to get them the care they have earned.”

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“We must do right by the brave men and women who serve our country and do everything we can to protect their health,” Sen. Klobuchar said. “The bipartisan Burn Pits Accountability Act ‎will allow us to gather the information we need to monitor, evaluate, and eventually treat the devastating health effects of burn pits on our  service members. By learning from our past mistakes, we can prevent toxic burn pits from becoming this generation’s Agent Orange.”

“As a member of both the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services Committees, it’s my priority to support our service members from the day they enter military service through the transition into civilian life and beyond,”  Sen. Sullivan said. “I am pleased to once again work with Senator Klobuchar on this bipartisan legislation that would help keep our service members healthy and safe by ensuring exposure to toxic airborne chemicals from burn pits is identified and studied.”

“IAVA members have been telling us their health concerns from toxic exposures for the last 15 years, and many veterans who I have served with are now becoming sick with cancers and respiratory illnesses,” said IAVA Chief Policy Officer Melissa Bryant. “With 80% of IAVA members reporting exposure to burn pits and 63% reporting associated symptoms, we know the time to act is now. I often wonder how my own health will continue to be affected in the years to come. As the daughter of Vietnam veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange, I’ve observed how toxic exposures can plague you for decades long after the wars we fight in—and we know burn pits could be our generation’s Agent Orange. IAVA applauds fellow post-9/11 veterans, Representative Gabbard, Representative Mast and Senator Sullivan for re-introducing this landmark, bipartisan legislation. And we thank Sen. Klobuchar for her tireless championship to help veterans suffering from injuries due to burn pits and toxic exposures. This legislation will dramatically increase the quantity and quality of research and data about these exposures and how they have impacted our service members. We urge all Members of Congress to sign onto this bill immediately, and to pass it before the end of this year.”

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“We thank Representatives Gabbard (D-HI) and Mast (R-FL), and Sen. Klobuchar (D-MN) for introducing this important, bipartisan bill.  It will provide currently serving service members in Iraq and Afghanistan with periodic health assessments during deployment, an evaluation of whether or not a service member has been exposed to open burn pits or toxic airborne chemicals on separation from service, and ensure vital protections for them as Veterans,” said United States Army Warrant Officers Association.

“The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) does NOT want exposure to open burn pits or toxic airborne chemicals to become the Agent Orange/Blue Water Navy issue for veterans serving since September 11, 2001,” said Fleet Reserve Association.

“We are in Support of the Burn Pits Accountability Act,” said Chief Warrant & Warrant Officers Association, USCG.

“As America’s only national organization dedicated to the treatment and elimination of bladder cancer, the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN) supports Reps. Gabbard and Mast’s bipartisan re-introduction of the Burn Pits Accountability Act,” said Andrea Maddox-Smith, CEO Bladder Cancer Awareness Network.This legislation takes the first critical steps necessary to document our nation’s servicemen and veterans’ exposure to toxic and carcinogenic burn pits. This documentation will go a long way towards ensuring our country’s servicemen and women receive the treatments and care we have promised them.”

“Many members of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) including myself, have been exposed to the toxic vapors associated with burn pits.” said Joseph Bogart, executive director, BVA.This legislation is a good first step in addressing the concerns all of us exposed during the recent conflicts have about our future health and wellbeing.”

“The Marine Corps League supports the reintroduction of the Burn Pits Accountability Act in the 116th Congress as a step towards recognizing the potential and real health consequences of deployed service of our Marines and many members of the other uniformed services in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Marine Corps League. Representatives Gabbard and Mast are to be commended for their leadership efforts to enact legislation (The Burn Pits Accountability Act) to require more in-depth monitoring of servicemembers’ health for signs of illnesses connected to toxic exposure in combat zones. Burn Pits were used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of a wide variety of waste materials. Burn pit exposure has the potential to be the “Agent Orange” of the post-9/11 military generation.”

“This legislation is a critically important step forward to retroactively include countless veterans suffering the long-term health effects of their exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards,” said Anthony Hardie, national chair and director, Veterans for Common Sense. “Veterans and service members who fought for this country shouldn’t have to fight their own government for basic recognition they were exposed to these toxic hazards. The Supreme Court’s determination not to hear appeals related to burn pit contractor lawsuits makes the role of Congress all the more critical.”

“AMVETS commends Representatives Tulsi Gabbard and Brian Mast, two military veterans who served and sacrificed for our country, for reintroducing H.R. 5671, the Burn Pits Accountability Act in the 116th Congress,” said Sherman Gillums Jr., chief advocacy officer, American Veterans. “The title alone says it all—our country and government must demonstrate greater accountability for the consequences of toxic exposure, in this case exposure to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals. The U.S. service members and veterans didn’t put conditions on their willingness to fight for our freedom. Nor should our government in its obligation to care for those who fought not just a human enemy, but also an environmental one. Except the latter’s insidious attack on their bodies, in the form of neurological disorders, rare forms of cancer, and lung diseases, would last long after the guns fell silent. This bill is the first step of many that are necessary to fulfill that obligation.”

“Over the past five years, survivors of a military death due to illness seeking TAPS services increased by 51.37%,” said Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of (TAPS), Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. “TAPS believes the Burn Pits Accountability Act is an important step toward raising awareness of illnesses caused by toxic exposure. Our effort to understand the impact of toxic exposure is grounded in our intention to make sure all survivor families have access to survivor benefits earned through the service of their loved one. We applaud Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) and Brian Mast (FL-18) for introducing this important legislation.”

“The VFW thanks Congresswoman Gabbard and Congressman Mast for their continued bipartisan work to assist service members and veterans who face health risks due to burn pit exposures,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Adverse health conditions do not immediately present themselves after exposure to toxic and environmental hazards. The VFW proudly supports the Burn Pits Accountability Act, which would improve how we track, treat and prevent the harmful impacts of burn pit.”

“The Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States strongly supports the burn pits accountability act,” said Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States. “Legislation that mandates the collection of data related to airborne hazards is long overdue. We look forward to working hard to ensure this piece of legislation becomes law.”

Background:

The Burn Pits Accountability Act would evaluate the exposure of U.S. service members and veterans to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals by:

  • Requiring the Secretary of Defense to record whether service members have been based or stationed at a location where an open burn pit was used or exposed to toxic airborne chemicals, including any information recorded as part of the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, in the Periodic Health Assessment (PHAs), Separation History and Physical Examination (SHPEs), and Post-Deployment Health Assessment (PDHAs).
  • Enrolling any service member 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 in PHAs, SHPEs and PDHAs.
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