U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) is co-sponsoring a bill that would provide health coverage for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act was drafted after a veteran in Buchanan’s district, Stephen Shull of Sarasota County, died of metastatic lung cancer. While serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Shull was exposed to toxic air at burn pits — sites used by the military to dispose of chemicals, medical waste, petroleum, and other refuse.
This legislation would add 12 diseases to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of conditions presumed to be caused by exposure to burn pits. The conditions include chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lymphoma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, granulomatous disease, constrictive bronchiolitis, pulmonary fibrosis, pleuritis, sarcoidosis, Interstitial lung disease, cancer of any type, and asthma diagnosed after service.
“I’m deeply saddened by the death of Stephen Shull, who served our country overseas and later protected our community here at home,” Buchanan said. “He is one of the many veterans who suffered from critical health problems after being exposed to toxic burn pits. Our country needs to learn from the tragic mistakes in long denying health coverage to Vietnam veterans and do the right thing.”
Specifically, the bill would require the VA to provide health benefits to service members exposed to these hazards and other ‘presumptive conditions.’ Veterans would need to submit evidence of deployment to one of 34 countries where burn pits were used. Besides Iraq and Afghanistan, burn pits have been used in dozens of countries around the globe, including Syria, Sudan, and Kyrgyzstan. Currently, the VA doesn’t recognize any presumptive conditions to provide benefits for airborne hazards, such as burn pit exposure.