February 27, 2021

Manchin, Sullivan Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill To Address Veterans' Burn Pit Exposure

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

“It’s our duty to take care of the brave men and women who selflessly fought to defend our nation, often in terrible conditions. Many of our Veterans in West Virginia and across America who were exposed to open-air burn pits in the Middle East and Afghanistan are now facing health complications without healthcare coverage and benefits. I’m proud to work with Senator Sullivan to reintroduce this legislation which is the first step in recognizing the impact of toxic exposure to Veterans deployed overseas. I will continue to advocate for Veterans’ healthcare and benefits and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this commonsense legislation,” said Senator Manchin.

“We know that exposure to burn puts can add serious complications to a veteran’s health, even years and decades after their service,” said Senator Sullivan. “With this legislation, Senator Manchin and I are trying to be proactive and ready to take care of our veterans so we don’t have a repeat of the tragic, prolonged delay in relief experienced by many of our Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Our bill does away with the unreasonable presumption and burden on the veteran to prove that they were exposed to burn pits while serving at an installation where they were in use. The Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition Act is so important to thousands of veterans across the country, including many in Alaska, and I am hopeful we can get it to the President’s desk this Congress and better fulfill our responsibility to those who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.”

“Our nation has a solemn duty to care for those suffering long-term, negative health effects from toxic exposure to open air burn pits during their military service. The reintroduction of the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act helps us further fulfill that duty,” said Stephen “Butch” Whitehead, national commander of Disabled American Veterans (DAV). “DAV thanks Senators Sullivan and Manchin for their leadership in this bipartisan effort that will help eliminate red tape and assist affected veterans seeking benefits for disabilities related to burn pits.”

S.437, the Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition 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 currently endorsed by Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the American Legion, and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and was previously cosponsored by 30 members of the Senate in the 116th Congress, when it was unanimously passed out of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.