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Veterans Administration to Cover Additional Toxic Exposure from Burn Pits

VA moves to cover toxic exposure costs for veteransIn an incredibly rare display of bipartisanship, the U.S. House and Senate have crafted legislation to fund a VA effort to add coverage for nine types of respiratory cancers generally attributed to military service near burn pits. That, however, is where the good will ends, as the two parties have suggested drastically different funding levels.

Burn pits are used in military theaters to dispose of waste. Free of the regulations put in place by the EPA on U.S. soil, trash of all kinds is disposed of in military theaters simply by burning it. The type of trash is irrelevant. Everything from chemicals, solvents, tires, fuel, general garbage, and even human waste is piled into a giant hole in the ground and set ablaze. The compounds that are created from this process and sent into the air are toxic beyond measure. However, servicemembers stationed around the burn pits continue with their day-to-day operations and breathe as normal for days, weeks, and months on end.

Many of the diseases brought on by this practice have been disqualified for coverage under VA benefit programs, leaving the servicemember to cover the extensive cost of treatment to private insurance or their own funds. The new rule proposed by the VA now covers nine types of lung cancer for veterans with service in Southwest Asia during the period of the Persian Gulf War. The rule also includes those who served in Afghanistan, Syria, Djibouti, or Uzbekistan after the onset of the War on Terror.

While both parties seem to agree that the government should be responsible for caring for those it exposed to a laundry list of toxic chemicals and compounds while carrying out its wishes, they differ drastically on how much money such an effort is worth. Democrats in the House proposed legislation funding the VA’s effort to the tune of $300 billion over 10 years. 30 House republicans reached across the aisle and agreed with democrats on the issue and the bill passed easily. Senate republicans, however, found the amount to be unpalatable and have proposed their own legislation, funding the same effort for just $1 billion over the same decade.