Consider this a call to action. There is a burn pit bill at the House of Representatives that needs your support. Contact your local representative and express your support for H.R. 2237, the “Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act.” Also, sign the petition to the United States House of Representatives (available through the embedded hyperlink).
Congresswoman Elizabeth Etsy introduced the bill for herself and for Congressman Jim McDermott. Additional congressional supporters are starting to emerge. As of now, the Library of Congress’s THOMAS website shows that “Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act” is sponsored by Representatives Etsy and cosponsored by Representatives McDermott, Cheri Bustos, Mike Coffman, Henry Cuellar, Walter Jones, Jr., Peter King, and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen.
What Does the Act Do?
The Burn Pit Act (in short) promotes and finances research that will evaluate the negative long term health effects of burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq. More specifically, the Act establishes a “center of excellence in the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits and other war zone environmental exposures”–like dust, sand, or smoke containing pollutants. The center, itself, will have the following responsibilities:
(1) To provide for the development, testing, and dissemination within the Department of veterans Affairs of best practices for the treatment of health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits and other environmental exposures.
(2) To provide guidance for the health system of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense in determining the personnel required to provide quality health care for members of the Armed Forces and veterans with health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits and other environmental exposures.
(3) To establish, implement, and oversee a comprehensive program to train health professionals of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense in the treatment of health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits and other environmental exposures.
(4) To facilitate advancements in the study of the short-term and long-term effects of exposure to burn pits and other environmental exposures.
(5) To disseminate within the military medical treatment facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs best practices for training health professionals with respect to health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits and other environmental exposures.
(6) To conduct basic science and translational research on health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits and other environmental exposures for the purposes of understanding the etiology of such conditions and developing preventive interventions and new treatments.
(7) To provide medical treatment to all veterans identified as part of the burn pits registry established under section 201 of the Dignified Burial and Other Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-260; 38 U.S.C. 527 note).
Why Do I Think Additional Research is Necessary?
Back in the 1980s, the Veterans Administration took the position that Agent Orange did not cause negative long-term health effects. It wasn’t until a decade later that news publications successfully questioned the scientific research on which the VA relied:
When the first findings came out in 1984, it appeared that there were no significant differences in the health outcomes of the Ranch Hander and other service members. However, it was later revealed by the San Diego Union-Tribune that the Air Force had not released all the results from the study. According to the paper, the Ranch Handers were “less well” than the comparison group by a ration of 5 to 1. In addition, these veterans reported “significantly” more birth defects among their children.
So not only did the effects of Agent Orange hurt the exposed individual, it also caused birth defects that were passed on to later generations. If the VA could grossly underestimate the consequences of Agent Orange exposure, couldn’t it do the same with burn pits? And to give fairness where fairness is due, the VA advertises that it is, in fact, conducting burn pit studies.
In my opinion, Representative Etsy’s Burn Pit Act is even-handed. It calls for research, for best practices, for the sharing of data, and for treatment of veterans identified as part of the burn pits registry. (Really, go register.)
My law practice focuses on the representation of military contractors who worked alongside the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. I get a lot of calls from contractors who worked overseas for years, and who now have lung problems. It’s been five years since they were OCONUS. More burn pit research will help both veterans and military contractors. (In fact, if the VA really wants to step up its research efforts, it should develop a burn pit registry for military contractors. Doing so could help both veterans and contractors because there would be a wider sample size from which to collect scientific evidence.)
Photo from the U.S. Department of Defense, Defense.gov News Photos.