Friday, June 28, 2013

New Law Proposed to Study Burn Pit Toxic Exposures

Congressman Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO) were joined by representatives from veteran advocacy groups, physicians, and family members of veterans today to announce new bipartisan legislation to address the health crisis among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were exposed to open-air burn pits and other airborne hazards during their service overseas. Original cosponsors of the legislation also include Congressmen Walter Jones (R-NC) and Jim Cooper (D-TN).

The “Helping Veterans Exposed to Toxic Chemicals Act” (H.R. 2510) will establish three
Centers of Excellence in the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of health conditions related to open burn pit and other environmental exposures. Thousands of veterans have returned home after serving overseas with a myriad of illnesses ranging from asthma and other respiratory afflictions to serious gastro-intestinal disorders. While the precise number of veterans affected is not currently known, it is estimated that tens of thousands might be suffering due to their exposure overseas. The Centers of Excellence will have access to and make use of the data collected by DoD and the VA for the burn pits registry that was created by law in 2012.

The Centers of Excellence for the study of exposure-related illnesses will be jointly administered by VA and Department of Defense in a framework similar to the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Traumatic Brain Injury. The locations of the three Centers of Excellence will be selected through a competitive application process to ensure the highest quality of study and care. Qualified institutions must have a proven track record of post-deployment health exposures among veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and meet other requirements in order to be considered. The legislation authorizes an appropriation of $30 million in each fiscal year from 2014 through 2019 to establish and operate the three Centers.

The “Helping Veterans Exposed to Toxic Chemicals Act” has been endorsed by IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America), The Sergeant Sullivan Center, and BurnPits360. The full text of the legislation is available at http://timbishop.house.gov/uploads/HR2510_BurnPits.pdf.
Bishop began work on the burn pits issue in 2007 after an Army Nurse whose father was a member of the Congressman’s Veterans Advisory Board alerted Bishop to an increase in respiratory illnesses that she believed might be linked to exposure to fumes from open-air fires used on overseas military bases to incinerate tires, munitions, medical waste, and other potentially hazardous waste. He was a leader in the bipartisan effort in Congress to end the military's reliance on burn pits and sharply curtail their use and has also successfully advocated for the Department of Veterans Affairs to proactively identify service members who may have been exposed to toxic fumes during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan so their health can be monitored and treated using best practices.

“America's painful experience with Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndromes requires a proactive, comprehensive response to this clear health crisis among veterans exposed to burn pits during their service in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Bishop. “Establishing Centers of Excellence to develop innovative treatments of the illnesses caused by toxic exposure and prevent them from occurring in the future is a vital effort on behalf of our brave service members and their families. I appreciate the support for this legislation on both sides of the aisle and among the dedicated groups who stand up on behalf of our veterans.”

“Far too many of our brave men and women in uniform are returning home only to find themselves facing debilitating or life-threatening lung conditions after being exposed to airborne hazards and toxins overseas,” said DeGette. “This legislation will go a long way towards helping America’s service members suffering from respiratory afflictions ultimately gain access to the medical treatments they need, from some of our nation’s top medical research institutions. I’m proud that National Jewish in Denver has one of the first programs in the nation to address deployment-related lung disease and that our community’s returning service men and women have such a great hospital nearby to help them.”

“It is absolutely necessary to enact legislation that will ensure we are well-prepared to care for our returning veterans who have been exposed to open burn pits,” said Jones. “After all that they have sacrificed for us, we owe it to them to provide access to the highest-quality resources so that they can fully heal from their injuries.”

“These centers are desperately needed for our military heroes who have been exposed to toxic fumes during their service. It’s our duty to understand their health conditions, provide the best treatment and implement preventive measures for the future,” said Cooper.

"Stony Brook University with Brookhaven National Lab is preeminently qualified To Be An Interdisciplinary Post Deployment Respiratory Health Center Of Excellence," said Dr. Anthony Szema, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Surgery, Stony Brook University School of Medicine.

“Veterans of previous generations struggled for years to have conditions such as Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome recognized as service-connected. We cannot repeat this same pattern with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans,” said IAVA Chief Policy Officer Tom Tarantino. “Establishing Centers of Excellence to treat the health conditions due to burn pit exposure is the first step to getting our veterans proper care. IAVA thanks Representatives Bishop for his leadership on this important issue, and urges Congress to move swiftly to pass this legislation.”

"The announcement of this legislation marks an historical step towards improving the national response to deployment exposure injuries," said Daniel Sullivan, President of The Sergeant Thomas Joseph Sullivan Center. "The Centers of Excellence will help fill a gap now left open for hundreds of thousands Veterans who, based on the experience in previous wars, will come forward with post-deployment exposure illnesses in the years to come. Further, the legislation promises a beginning to the end of the cycle of abandonment that has occurred after the previous wars, to partly heal the wounds of our national legacy of failure to respond expeditiously to the needs of those who suffered Agent Orange exposures and Gulf War Illness, and to fulfill our national obligation to defend those from illness who have defended us in war."

Read more about toxic exposures and burn pits:
Nov 03, 2012
An Oregon jury returned an $85 Million verdict against Kellog Brown & Root (KBR), a US Iraq War contractor, for exposing Oregon soldiers to toxins and causing them illness. After a 3 week trial, the jury deliberated 2 days, ...
May 16, 2011
The USA Today reports that some soldiers who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are being studied for medical conditions related to their exposure to toxins that may have been present in the war zones. The ill soldiers ...
Oct 10, 2010
Several South Carolina veterans have filed suit against KBR and Halliburton for disabilities arising out of their exposure to dust and fumes from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The returning soldiers called the toxic smoke ...
Apr 30, 2010
The burning of toxic waste on military bases throughout Iraq and Afghanistan was the subject of a recent news report on the Fox TV network. The post deployment medical condition of soldiers who were exposed to the toxic ...