November 22, 2019

Manchin, Sullivan Introduce Bill To Address Veterans' Burn Pit Exposure

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Dan Sullivan (R-AL), members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, today introduced S. 2950, The Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition Act of 2019, legislation which addresses a barrier currently preventing many Veterans from getting U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care and benefits for illnesses and diseases related to exposure to burn pits. The act would recognize and concede their exposure during deployed service. Notably, the bill would not automatically grant benefits or health care to Veterans who served near a burn pit, nor would it create a presumption of service connection, like Agent Orange. 

“We’ve made a promise to the men and women who have bravely fought to defend our nation, often in harsh conditions, that when they return home we take care of them. West Virginians have seen first-hand how long it’s taken for the Vietnam-era Veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals like Agent Orange to receive the care and benefits they deserve, and the toll it took on them and their families. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to this generation of Veterans. That’s why my colleague Senator Sullivan and I introduced The Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition Act to make it easier for Veterans exposed to open-air burn pits in the Middle East and Afghanistan to apply for care and benefits. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to continue our commitment to the patriotic men and women in uniform and I thank them every day for their service,” said Senator Manchin.

“We owe it to the men and women of our Armed Forces to continue to work toward addressing the impacts many face after being exposed to burn pits while serving our country overseas,” said Senator Sullivan. “The Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition Act reaffirms our commitment to those in uniform and ensures we will not wait decades to tackle this issue head on. I was pleased to work with my colleague Senator Manchin on this legislation which is an important step in the right direction.”

“For years, we’ve known of the adverse health effects caused by burn pits, and in that time we’ve seen too many seriously ill veterans struggle to get help from the VA because they lacked the documentation to prove what everyone already knows—that they were exposed to toxic chemicals released by burn pits while serving overseas,” said Randy Reese, Washington headquarters executive director of Disabled American Veterans. “This bipartisan bill will help get rid of red tape and assist affected veterans seeking burn pit-related benefits. We are grateful to Senators Sullivan and Manchin for working with us to develop and introduce this critical legislation and for being committed champions for our nation’s veterans.”

“As a Veteran who served in Iraq, as well as someone who has worked with Veterans for the past 15 years, it is crucial to me and all post 9/11 Veterans in West Virginia and our country that medical issues relating to burn pit exposure be recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The men and women who fought to protect our rights as Americans should be able to get the treatment and compensation they deserve as a result of these exposures. Veterans are dying from unique illnesses related to burn pit exposure, which is completely unacceptable. We need to pass this bill so we can prevent future Veterans from meeting the same fate,” Jeremy Harrison, President of West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle Veterans Council and Co-Founder of Helping Heroes

The Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Act would: 

  • Acknowledge an information gap. Given the limited information that exists about exactly when and where burn pits were active, or the precise locations of individuals who served near them, it is unreasonable for a Veteran to prove they were exposed to specific toxins from specific burn pits on specific days. 
  • Work in acknowledgment of ongoing research being conducted by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
  • Formally recognize that Veterans who served near burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations were exposed to airborne hazards, toxins and particulate matters. This recognition and concession can potentially aid thousands of Veterans who otherwise do not have documentation of their exposure.
  • Not automatically grant benefits or health care to Veterans who served near a burn pit. It also does not create a presumption of service connection, like Veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The decisions on presumption of service connection will require further scientific study and evidence, much of which is ongoing. Even with a concession of exposure, Veterans will still need to provide sufficient evidence of a link to a specific illness or disease in order to qualify for VA benefits. 

The legislation is also supported by Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), including Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America.