The HOPE Act honors Cathedral City veteran Jennifer Kepner, who passed away from pancreatic cancer linked to her burn pits exposure

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. , D-CA, today announced the introduction of H.R. 2432, the Jennifer Kepner Healthcare for Open-air burn-Pit Exposure (HOPE) Act, legislation that would make veterans exposed to burn pits eligible for low-cost health care from the Veterans Administration.

The bill is named after Cathedral City veteran Jennifer Kepner, a wife and mother of two children who died from pancreatic cancer linked to her exposure to toxic burn pits during her military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressman Ruiz introduced the Jennifer Kepner HOPE Act along with Representatives Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL).

The bill mirrors the approach taken by the Veterans’ Health Care, Training, and Small Business Loan Act of 1981, which gave Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange low-cost health care before providing veterans with free health care and benefits.

During military operations in the Global War on Terror and the Gulf War, the military employed open-air burn pits in order to burn garbage, medical waste, plastics, and other waste from military installations. At least 230 pits were utilized in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many others were used across the world. The largest of these burn pits was located at Balad Air Base, Iraq, and during its operation, was comprised of 10-acres of burning trash, 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.

Raul Ruiz

Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D.

“Jennifer Kepner was a hero who fought for her fellow veterans exposed to toxic military burn pits while courageously battling pancreatic cancer believed to be caused by burn pits exposure,” Dr. Ruiz said. “I am humbled to announce the Jennifer Kepner HOPE Act in her memory. This legislation will help veterans who are suffering from rare diseases, cancers, and respiratory illnesses due to their burn pit exposure get the care they need by reducing their health care costs from the VA. Jennifer’s story has been my constant inspiration in this fight to protect veterans and their families from the pain and suffering of burn pit exposure. Now, we are closer than ever to realizing her vision of taking care of our heroes in uniform and saving veterans’ lives.”

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for further consideration.

Ruiz is an emergency medicine physician and the founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Burn Pits Caucus. Throughout his time in Congress, Rep. Ruiz has consistently advocated to address the military’s use of toxic burn pits and help veterans who have been exposed obtain the benefits and care they need from the VA. Earlier this month, Congressman Ruiz announced the landmark legislation, the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act, which would streamline the process for obtaining VA benefits for burn pit and other toxic exposures.

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