Congressman Raul Ruiz Introduces Comprehensive, Bipartisan Burn Pits Bill
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. an emergency physician and founder and co-chairman of the bipartisan, bicameral Burn Pits Caucus, has spent more than three years fighting for a comprehensive, bipartisan Burn Pits Bill. A Cathedral City woman was the impetus for his work.
Today, he is closer than ever.
Ruiz, CA-36, has announced the introduction of the bipartisan, bicameral Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act. The bill, which is co-led by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in the House and U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) in the Senate, would streamline the process for obtaining VA benefits for burn pit and other toxic exposures.
“Our veterans cannot wait,” Ruiz said in a prepared statement. “Service members are returning home from the battlefield only to become delayed casualties of war, dying years later from lung diseases, cancers, and autoimmune diseases caused by their exposure to toxic military burn pits. The VA and DoD cannot continue to neglect this self-inflicted wound on our veterans. That’s why I co-authored the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act with Senator Gillibrand to get our veterans the care they need right now.”
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.
It has long been established that burning waste and garbage has significant negative impacts on the environment and human health–which is why using burn pits on American soil is against the law and exposure to other toxic substances is highly regulated. However, the military exposed millions of our men and women in uniform to carcinogenic toxic fumes released by burn pits that were used throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asia. It is estimated that more than 3.5 million military personnel could have been exposed to burn pits, and the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry website shows that nearly 235,000 veterans and service members have completed and submitted a questionnaire to self-report medical information about burn pit exposure.
Veterans are now sick and dying from lung diseases, cancers, and respiratory illnesses after living among this toxic cocktail of dust, smoke and debris while serving our country overseas.
Under current law, a veteran who has an illness or disability must establish a direct service connection in order to be eligible for VA benefits. Direct service connections means that evidence establishes that a particular injury or disease resulting in a disability was incurred while in service in the Armed Forces. For veterans exposed to burn pits, this means they would need to provide medical evidence of a current disease or disability; provide personal or other evidence of in-service physical presence near a specific burn pit or exposure to specific toxins or substance; and provide evidence of a link between the disability or illness and exposure. Upon completion of these steps, the VA determines if there is enough evidence to provide a medical exam and continue with the disability compensation claim. Therefore, it is currently the veteran’s responsibility to prove their illness or disability is directly connected to burn pit exposure.
The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act would remove the cumbersome – and in many cases impossible – “burden of proof” from the veteran to provide enough evidence to establish a direct service connection between their health condition and burn pit exposure. Rather, the veteran would only need to submit documentation that they received a campaign medal associated with the Global War on Terror or the Gulf War and that they suffer from a qualifying health condition. Campaign medals are awarded to members of the armed forces who deploy for military operations in a designated combat zone or geographical theater.
Presumptive conditions include a wide range of cancers and respiratory illnesses, including: asthma that was diagnosed after service, head cancer, neck cancer, respiratory cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, reproductive cancer, lymphoma cancer, lymphomatic cancer, kidney cancer, brain cancer, pancreatic cancer, melanoma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis.
The following organizations support the bill: Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The American Legion, Burn Pits 360, Vote Vets, Military Veterans Advocacy, Stronghold Freedom Foundation, Dixon Center, Veterans for Common Sense, Sergeant Sullivan Circle, National Veterans Legal Services Program, Warriors Project, Grunt Style, Feal Good Foundation.
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