War can take a terrible toll on those who fight for our country. Many wounds are visible — battle scars that include loss of limbs, disfigurement, loss of sight and other disabilities and, of course, death.
There are also unseen effects that may not reveal themselves until well after service members return from deployments or leave an installation. These are the emotional and mental injuries that may not be visible, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). This is also the case for countless war veterans who have been exposed to toxic smoke from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 20 years.
Burn pits are disposal sites used to burn everything from garbage, plastics, batteries and jet fuel to paint, vehicles, weapons and human and medical waste. At many remote combat posts, burn pits are used to dispose of items because a more appropriate facility simply was not available.
Unfortunately, as the health consequences of burn pits continue to be studied, veterans are enduring a wave of rare cancers and other illnesses. Some have died from these illnesses.
For example, a recent story on Military.com discusses an Army noncommissioned officer (NCO) who deployed twice to Balad Air Base in Iraq and died at age 36 from pancreatic cancer. The average age of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is 70. According to the soldier’s husband, his wife kept a journal and wrote extensively about the burn pits that were more than 10 acres in size and burned 100 to 200 tons of waste per day. She wrote in her journal that filters were cleaned every two days and resembled black soup when they were removed.
President BidenJoe BidenIran espionage-linked ship attacked at sea Biden exceeds expectations on vaccines — so far Jill Biden to visit Alabama with actress Jennifer Garner MORE has stated that his son, Beau, may have been a victim of the toxins from burn pits in Iraq. Beau Biden served in the National Guard, joining when he was 32 years old. He died of brain cancer in 2015. Like the Army NCO, he was stationed at Balad.
Each war poses unique hazards and exposures for service members. Each conflict has led to tens of thousands of veterans suffering from illnesses or disabilities long after they returned home. Despite the time it can take for potential health consequences to become evident after exposure to toxins from burn pits, many veterans are not receiving health care and benefits after clear risks and exposures during their service.
In February, however, Sens. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanGOP lawmakers ask Biden administration for guidance on reopening cruise industry Alaska’s other GOP senator says he’ll back Murkowski for reelection Sunday shows preview: Spotlight on Georgia voting law; lawmakers tackle gun violence, border surge MORE (R-Alaska) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Energy: Progressives fear infrastructure’s climate plans won’t survive Senate | EPA to propose vehicle emissions standards by July’s end | Poll shows growing partisan divide on climate change Schumer gets his game changer Progressives fear infrastructure’s climate plans won’t survive Senate MORE (D-W.Va.) reintroduced legislation addressing the exposure-recognition barrier preventing many veterans from getting VA health care and benefits for illnesses and diseases related to exposure to burn pits. The legislation, S. 437, is called the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act. Similar legislation proposed in previous years has failed.
In introducing the legislation, Sen. Sullivan said he and Sen. Manchin are “trying to be proactive and ready to take care of veterans so there is not a repeat of the tragic, prolonged delay in relief experienced by many Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange.” The proposed legislation “does away with the unreasonable burden on veterans to prove that they were exposed to burn pits while serving at an installation where the pits were in use,” Sullivan said.