Congress moves toward vastly expanding benefits for vets exposed to burn pits

Published by JERRY ZREMSKI

(Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)


Like many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Thomas U. Kim noticed something different about his health when he returned from overseas.


“I never had allergies or allergy-like symptoms until I came back from my 2006 deployment,” said Kim, a former Army Reserve officer who served three deployments in Iraq and who is now the president and CEO of the Community Action Organization of Western New York.


But then again, before his deployments to Iraq, Kim hadn’t been exposed to the pungent toxic fumes emanating from “burn pits” where troops burned anything and everything they didn’t need — fuel, furniture, metals, plastics, anything.


And while he worries that his symptoms may eventually evolve into something much more serious, for now, he’s lucky.


“There are many veterans who had much worse symptoms, from upper respiratory problems to cancer,” he said.


Kim is one of 3.5 million veterans who, by the government’s own accounting, have been exposed to fumes from burn pits since the 1991 Gulf War.


Thankfully for Kim and millions of other veterans, Congress is on the cusp of finally doing something about the damage done by burn pit smoke and other toxins that they were exposed to while serving their country.


The Senate last month overwhelmingly passed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which adds 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers to the list of conditions that are considered service-connected — meaning vets exposed to them can automatically get VA health care and disability benefits. And despite a parliamentary glitch, both houses of Congress are expected to approve the measure later this summer.


Kim is one of many veterans who’s happy about that....


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