Veterans who served downwind of burn pits at bases in Iraq and Afghanistan could get a little clarity from the VA next year.
The $700 billion military spending bill that just passed the U.S. Senate makes provisions for the veterans who spent their deployment inhaling the smoke from their base's burning garbage — tires, plastic, batteries, electronics and human waste, all doused with jet fuel and set alight. The legislation calls on the Department of Veterans Affairs to study and respond to the health risks of the burn pits.
Some veterans returned home complaining of asthma, neurological issues, cancers and other serious health problems. Burn pits, activists worried, could be this generation's version of Agent Orange.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican Thom Tillis proposed creating a center for excellence within the VA, using existing agency funds, to study the health effects of the burn pits and to treat veterans sickened by exposure. The proposal was included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which will fund the military into 2018. The Senate bill, and its burn pit language, will now have to be reconciled with the House's version of the bill.
"It took the government years after the Vietnam War to recognize that there was a link between Agent Orange and the devastating health effects on our soldiers. We can't let history repeat itself," Klobuchar said in a statement. "We need to better understand and address the relationship between burn pit exposure and the health needs of our brave men and women in uniform, and this bill will help accomplish that."