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Posts Tagged ‘Veterans Affairs’

Landmark Bill Would Designate 12 Illnesses as Connected to Burn Pits | Military.com

Posted by M. C. on September 16, 2020

“This is a moral outrage. It’s also a looming crisis that must be addressed. Burn pits are so dangerous that they are outlawed on U.S. soil, but they were used all over the world. … Many of our veterans have no time to spare,” Gillibrand said during a press conference in front of the U.S. Capitol.

We have met the enemy and he is us – Pogo

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/09/15/landmark-bill-would-designate-12-illnesses-connected-burn-pits.html

By Patricia Kime

Lawmakers introduced legislation Tuesday that would streamline the process for veterans to receive disability benefits for diseases that may be related to exposure to burn pits and other battlefield pollutants.

Bolstered by the support of advocate and comedian Jon Stewart, who successfully led the effort to continue financial support for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., announced a bill to remove a Department of Veterans Affairs requirement that veterans prove a link between a dozen diseases and exposure to burn pits and other toxins.

 
 

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Instead, former service members would only have to provide documentation to the VA that they served at least 15 days in one of 33 countries listed in the proposed legislation.

“This is a moral outrage. It’s also a looming crisis that must be addressed. Burn pits are so dangerous that they are outlawed on U.S. soil, but they were used all over the world. … Many of our veterans have no time to spare,” Gillibrand said during a press conference in front of the U.S. Capitol.

 

“Service members are coming home from the battlefield only to become delayed casualties of war … drawing parallels to Agent Orange and 9/11 exposures,” said Ruiz, who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Burn Pit Caucus.

The monumental proposal could have an impact on more than 3 million veterans who have served since Aug. 2, 1990, in one of the countries and have a listed illness, similar to the landmark Agent Orange Act of 1991, which designated more than a dozen diseases as presumed to be caused by exposure to toxic herbicides used in Vietnam.

The illnesses include: asthma diagnosed after deployment to a listed country or territory; any type of cancer; chronic bronchitis; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; constrictive bronchiolitis; emphysema; granulomatous disease; interstitial lung disease; lymphoma; pleuritis; pulmonary fibrosis; and sarcoidosis.

The countries and territories listed include Afghanistan, Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Diego Garcia, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

Danielle Robinson’s husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson, deployed with the Ohio National Guard to Iraq in 2006, where he worked at Camp Liberty, nicknamed “Camp Trashcan” for its large burn pit. Robinson later developed a rare type of lung cancer that his doctor said “could only be due to toxic exposure.”

He died in May.

Robinson said she was denied by the VA caregiver program even though she needed to quit her job as a physical therapist to care for her husband as he struggled with his illnesses.

“My husband is dead because America has poisoned its soldiers,” Robinson said during the press conference.

More than 250 burn pits operated at U.S. military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, used to dispose of all types of garbage, including plastics, batteries, tires, computers, office equipment, animal carcasses, household trash and hospital waste.

Concern over the health threat they posed initially arose in 2006, when Air Force Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, a bioenvironmental flight commander for Joint Base Balad, Iraq, noted that the 10-acre-wide burn pit there posed a “acute health hazard for individuals” and the “possibility for chronic health hazards associated with the smoke.”

But troops and military contractors weren’t made aware of the potential hazard until Army Times journalist Kelly Kennedy first began reporting on the issue in 2008.

In addition to respiratory illnesses, young service members have developed cancers and other illnesses not usually seen in people their age. After years of silence on the issue of his son Beau Biden’s death from glioblastoma, a brain cancer, presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden told PBS reporter Judy Woodruff in 2018 that burn pits may have a “carcinogenic impact on the body.”

The National Academy of Sciences released a report Friday concluding that, while there is scientific evidence to link chronic respiratory symptoms like wheezing and coughing to burn pits, few studies exist that could conclusively connect exposure to burn pits and other airborne pollutants to diseases seen in veterans.

An 11-member advisory panel said their conclusions did not mean there is no link, only that the research or data did not exist to prove one.

The VA also has consistently cited a 2011 report by the same scientific advisory body that there is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions on the long-term health effects of burn pits.

Stewart called the arguments “bull—-.”

“The only difference between the first responders at Ground Zero who are dying of toxic exposures is that was caused as a result of a terrorist attack. … Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from the same illnesses and same exposures as the result of the actions of our own government,” Stewart said.

More than 212,000 veterans have enrolled in VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, a congressionally mandated database for veterans to self-report their deployments and any health-related consequences.

In addition to airborne exposures, the bill would cover former service members affected by contact to chemical weapons, nerve agents or other battlefield toxins, such as those encountered by troops assigned to Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, according to Gillibrand.

The bill, the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act, has little chance of passing in the last 24 days of the legislative year. But Stewart said that he, along with advocate John Feal and numerous veterans service organizations, will continue fighting.

“We always have money for the war. We never have money for the warfighter,” Stewart said. “Today, we plant the flag, and we are going to exhibit the relentlessness of the warfighter.”

— Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: Lawmakers Call for Action on Burn Pit Exposure

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The ‘Burn Pit’ Is The New Agent Orange Of Our Era

Posted by M. C. on December 6, 2019

The VA was dragged, kicking and screaming, to set up a registry for which veterans could voluntarily register what they believed to be burn pit-connected illnesses.

https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2019/12/04/the-burn-pit-is-the-new-agent-orange-of-our-era/


Kelley Beaucar Vlahos

Its a headline that should, by all appearances, be considered good news.” But somehow the November 18 declaration, VA announces plans to study military toxic exposures, connections to veteran illnesses,” just comes off as an Onion-esque parody.

Thats because the Veterans Affairs Department has been vowing to study” the effects of the ubiquitous “burn pits” on soldiers for more than a decade—so has the Pentagon. In fact, there have been tons of studies already, big and small, in both the public and private sectors. But like everything in Washington, launching one more study or task force allows the bureaucracy to stall real action—in this case, practical help for thousands of men and women who say theyre suffering from war-related illnesses.

Once upon a time, the lag time between when Vietnam veterans reported getting sick from Agent Orange exposure in the late 1970s to when the government began officially recognizing their illnesses, including cancer (in 1991), was considered the height of institutional inertia and neglect. In fact, many Vietnam veterans who did not fit the original parameters of the 1991 policy that made Agent Orange exposure a service-connected illness, affording them access to VA health care and disability compensation, are still fighting for their due.

But successive wars in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan have created two new generations of veterans who have been mostly denied VA health care and disability benefits for their toxic exposures overseas. In other words, waiting as long if not longer than their Vietnam counterparts has merely become the new normal.

This includes some 250,000 Persian Gulf veterans, now mostly in their 50s and 60s, who are suffering from a variety of mysterious health conditions many medical experts now believe resulted from their exposure to widely used pesticides, the pyridostigmine bromide pills taken by troops to protect against sarin gas, and actual sarin gas exposure during the 1991 war. Outside studies have been conducted for more than 20 years now, with many finding direct correlation between service and illness. The VA has stepped up in so far as there is a way for these veterans to file service-connected claims, but the way the requirements are set up, it is still very difficult to actually get approved. According to one explosive report, some 80 percent of Gulf veteransclaims were denied between 2010 and 2015.

Then there are the burn pits. For years after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, the U.S. military dumped all of the trash accumulating on its massive U.S. forward operating bases into unregulated, unfiltered, open air pits. These pits, often the size of football fields or larger, burned everything from broken down vehicles, batteries, styrofoam, medical waste, food, paint cans, tires, you name it. They burned day and night, notable for the smoky haze and big black angry plumes. Tens of thousands of troops and other personnel worked and lived right next to these pits, unprotected, and many complained about coughing up crud,” and getting sick right away when they arrived for the first time on base.

In one case, this author interviewed the wife of a soldier who, while stationed at Camp Taji in Iraq, began to lose all feeling in his feet. By 2009 he was home and confined to a wheelchair at the age of 49. VA doctors were flummoxed by his condition, finally diagnosing him with rheumatoid fibromyalgia. But his own neurologist believed, even at the time, that his condition was the result of nerve damage caused by toxic exposure.

That was 10 years ago. But now we know that there is fine particulate matter like heavy metals in the air around these unfiltered pits, and it was reported to Air Force officials as early as 2006 that it was an environmental health hazard. We know they sat on this information and even to this day will not acknowledge that the toxic air could be responsible for serious neurological and respiratory problems, not to mention cancer, among this cohort of  veterans.

Congress believed it enough to shut down the burn pits in late 2009 after the stories like the one above started flowing from veteransblogs and into their offices on Capitol Hill. But despite the order, burn pits are still being used in the war zone today.

The VA was dragged, kicking and screaming, to set up a registry for which veterans could voluntarily register what they believed to be burn pit-connected illnesses. Since 2014, some 187,630 veterans have signed up as of this October. Meanwhile, the media is now rife with stories about young veterans dying of cancer, of wasting away in wheelchairs and with ever-present oxygen masks. A new report shows a spike in cancer rates among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking VA care.

A class action suit by 800 veterans who wanted to hold the private contractor Kellogg, Brown, & Root responsible for the conditions caused by the burn pits went all the way up to the Supreme Court, but the justices wouldnt hear the case.

Sadly, thanks to testing by private medical doctors, we know that the worst of the damage to vets is irreversible and that taking care of those who do not die as a result will cost the government billions over time. And here is the rub: between this generation, and that of the Persian Gulf veterans behind them, the VA is faced with liabilities that will stretch beyond today and decades into the future. There is every incentive to stall.

The American government should not have this luxury. When Washington made the decision to surge hundreds of thousands of troops into Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq, it also entered into a covenant of care with those service members. Yes, this covenant has been broken many times before, but there is no reason to normalize the practice.

Had the government cared enough to find out what it was spraying, firing, burning and asking our troops to ingest, instead of treating them like guinea pigs, or worse, disposable, they would not be staring down the barrel of a trillion dollar gun. But here we are. It is up to us as citizens and policy makers to force some action, and say that one more study” just wont cut it.

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VA asks for more veterans to sign up for Burn Pit Registry ...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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