Veteran groups urge Senate to move on burn pit legislation

Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 11:37 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The U.S. military disposed of a wide range of materials in Iraq and Afghanistan in burn pits. Today, veterans exposed to those burn pits are coming down with a wide range of diseases, some of which are proving fatal.

This week, the Biden administration added nine types of cancers to the list of illnesses eligible for veterans’ health care benefit, linking them back to burn pit exposure. Still, the administration is calling on Congress to deliver legislation that will allow more veterans exposed to burn pits to receive better healthcare from Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Pat Murray, the legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said, “We know that breathing in toxins are bad. Burn pits are illegal in the United States. You try to burn all your trash in your backyard, you’re going to get a call from the cops right away.”

Murray said veterans in their twenties and thirties were exposed to burn pits overseas and are coming down with rare cancers and other serious illnesses. He said, “It’s very unfortunate that we’re asking the men and women to then prove to VA that their illness is because of what our government put them through.”

Murray says veterans are waiting on the Senate to pass the PACT Act, which has already passed the House. He said the legislative package would increase care options and expand the list of illnesses veterans can get treatment for. The VFW is just one of the dozens of Veterans Service Organizations urging the Senate to pass the legislation and send it to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The groups are hoping that former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart can help rally support with events like these in different cities. In an interview with Gray Television’s Kansas City station, Stewart urged the Senate to move faster.

Stewart said, “These guys are trying to nitpick this thing to make it perfect. It’s never going to be perfect, but millions of veterans need the help.”

The VFW’s Murray said he expects support from all 50 Senate democrats, but still needs at least 10 republican senators. Some lawmakers expressed concern over cost and overwhelming the VA and lowering the standard of care across the board.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement, “These heroes did not hesitate to answer the call to serve their nation, and the least we can do is ensure they are taken care of following their service. I will not stop until our veterans can receive the care they earned.”

In a hearing last month, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough told a Senate committee that if the PACT Act is passed, he expects up to two-and-a-half million new claims to be filed in the next three years. He said the VA will need to hire more staff.

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