Veterans Exposed to Toxins Face Uphill Fight for Health Benefit

Published by Roxana Tiron

(Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)


A bid to help U.S. veterans exposed to toxic substances during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan faces objections to its cost as backers of the ambitious legislation prepare for a vote in the House next week.


The measure, H.R. 3967, would speed health care and benefits to millions of veterans exposed to burn pits. Some Republicans say the price tag — almost $300 billion over the next decade — is too high.


The military long has used open air pits to burn jet fuel, paint, plastic, medical waste, and garbage. Veterans diagnosed with cancer, lung disease, and other respiratory problems years after their deployments have sought help for the ailments they suspect were caused by the toxic exposure.


“This is about the cost of war,” bill sponsor Mark Takano (D-Calif.), chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said at a roundtable Tuesday. Congress cannot renege its promises to those who fought the country’s wars “because of sticker shock,” he added.


Roughly 3.5 million veterans have had some burn pit exposure, lawmakers and advocates estimate. Still, the Veterans Affairs Department doesn’t recognize the effects of burn pits as conditions it should cover, and says there’s insufficient evidence to support such claims.


Takano’s bill would shift the burden of proof, giving veterans the benefit of the doubt when they seek help from the VA. It also would establish a presumption of connection between 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers and service personnel’s exposure to burn pits and airborne hazards....


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