Veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while serving may now have an easier time receiving the care and compensation they need, thanks to comedian Jon Stewart and other veterans advocates, who appeared on Capitol Hill last week.
The initiative seeks to lump together several different bills before Congress that address toxic exposure, and expedite the passage of said legislation.
Stewart has been a stalwart advocate for veterans. According to TheHill.com, Stewart has called the Veterans Administration (VA) “an obstacle” to medical care for burn pit exposure. The VA estimates that three million veterans have been exposed to toxic fumes, mostly from open-air trash burns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The former host of “The Daily Show” first became involved in advocacy in lobbying Congress to pass the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund on behalf of veterans and first responders.
Stewart said in an interview on Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, “I think anybody who served in Iraq and Afghanistan had experience with [toxic burn pits].” Stewart explained in the segment that all the waste that accumulates on base—be it human, hazardous, munitions—is ignited with jet fuel. This “radiation-like” toxic brew emanates thick black smoke all day long, exposing the harmful inhalants to soldiers who lived on base.
The health consequences of being exposed to these fumes are similar to those experienced by first responders in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, suggested Stewart, who listed some of the disorders caused by inhaling toxic fumes: constrictive bronchiolitis and other pulmonary diseases as well as rare cancers such as glioblastomas, and pancreatic cancer in “very young, healthy individuals,” Stewart described.
In addition, veterans exposed to toxic fume pits have developed permanent nodules, lung scarring, neuromuscular- and immune disorders.
Unfortunately, Stewart said, per TheHill.com, “the VA is not providing adequate medical care for these veterans.”
Veterans have to pay out of pocket for diagnostic tests to show that the burden of proof is not on them for any illnesses developed as a result of exposure to the toxic burn pits. Many veterans’ claims for these illnesses are denied, say veterans advocates such as Stewart, who said that the VA “Shouldn’t be operating as an obstacle or as some sort of insurance company that has a barrier of entry to deny service-related diseases.”
The legislation would spur the VA to remove the burden of proof off of soldiers and presume they had been exposed.
Stewart suggested that since the 9/11 compensation fund already serves as a blueprint, the program to provide benefits to vets for toxic fume exposure should be a simple one to implement.
Of course, funding the program is a factor, but Stewart suggested the toxic fume compensation fund should be factored into the total cost of war.
“You don’t get to pay for one aspect of the war and not the other. You don’t get to leave people hanging,” Stewart said, per TheHill.com.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) was unveiled late last month. TheHill.com explains that if passed, the legislation would give presumptive VA benefits “to servicemembers who have deployed and have illnesses due to exposure to burn pits and other toxins,” thus removing the burden of proof on veterans.