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Tuesday, September 27, 2022
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Senate Passes Burn Pit Bill for Veterans


Solder oversees burn pit. | Image by Audacy

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The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Thursday to expand health benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits while on duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The U.S. military used large, open-air burn pits to dispose of trash, munitions, hazardous materials, chemicals, and other waste. The pits would be dug at or near U.S. military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, allegedly exposing personnel to dangerous toxins released when they burned.

Dubbed the “Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022,” the bill passed the Senate 84 to 14. It will now move on to the House of Representatives for consideration.

If enacted, the PACT Act would expand health care benefits to service members exposed to burn pits during their tours of duty, providing coverage to upwards of 3.5 million qualifying veterans.

The bill adds several illnesses to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ presumptive list of diseases incurred or exacerbated due to service in the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, removing the burden from veterans who previously had to prove that exposure to burn pits caused their disease, according to CBS News.

Veterans reportedly struggled for years trying to secure coverage for illnesses like cancer, asthma, and acute peripheral neuropathy, which the VA declined to presume came from military burn pits. It denied more than 70% of disability claims related to burn pit exposure due to a “lack of evidence,” per ABC News.

Although military burn pits are considered a method of last resort, the Department of Defense told Congress that at least nine were in use in early 2019, according to the Military Times.

Veterans advocacy groups have long petitioned Congress to act on burn pits. Comedian John Stewart, a known advocate for 9/11 first responders, spoke out on the issue to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in January this year:

“The bottom line is our country exposed our own veterans to poison for years, and we knew about it, and we did not act with urgency and appropriateness. And therefore, we’ve lost men and women who served this country. They’ve died out of our inaction.” 

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