Monday, January 2, 2012

Tester bill protects troops exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan

Senator Jon Tester is calling on the VA to safeguard the health of American veterans by establishing a list of burn pits used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of waste materials.
Tester is a sponsor of the bipartisan Open Burn Pit Registry Act, which requires the VA to document the locations of open-air burn pits. The bill would properly document troops’ exposure to open burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Studies show that burn pits – makeshift incinerators used to dispose of waste in war zones – release toxic particles into the air that have been linked to several respiratory and neurological ailments, as well as cancer.
“We’ve got to do everything we can now to identify health concerns and make sure our troops have the support they deserve if those concerns cause problems in the future,” Tester said. “That’s why it is critical that we honor their sacrifice by making sure that they get first-rate medical treatment once they return home, and for the rest of their lives.”
Tester added that by establishing an open burn pit registry, troops who were stationed near incinerators will have an easier time connecting their medical problems to chemical exposure, and therefore make the process of applying for disability benefits easier. 
“Veterans have told me time and again that the VA is full of good people, but getting in the door is the hardest part,” Tester said. “This bill will make it easier for folks to apply for VA benefits by helping service members to link a disability to their military service.”
Tester’s measure also calls for an independent organization to perform a study on the health effects of open-air burn pits, which burn everything from unexploded ordnance, to batteries and medical waste.
Tester has previously pushed federal agencies to study illnesses resulting from exposure to burn pits. Earlier this year, he wrote the Secretaries of Veterans Affairs and Defense urging them to “immediately begin all necessary studies to determine the precise causes of increased illnesses among our troops returning home from battle.”
Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has a long record of improving health care for Montana’s fighting men and women after they return from the battlefield. Last summer, Tester praised the Department of Veterans Affairs for expanding medical coverage for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.
A copy of Tester’s bipartisan Open Burn Pit Registry Act is available on his website HERE.