Millions of veterans are about to receive the medical care they’ve been so long denied. Patient loads at VA facilities are about to swell with former warriors who’ve developed cancer and severe respiratory ailments as a result of breathing toxic smoke and fumes from burn pits. Once a newly proposed bill receives Biden’s signature it’ll go to the House where no resistance to its passage is expected.
Health care organizations and veterans advocacy groups that have fought the long hard battle for years have linked burn pits to a wide range of illnesses ranging from emphysema to glioblastoma, the type of cancer that killed Major Beau Biden, Joe Biden’s son. His demise was directly contributed to the open burning of toxic waste materials at overseas military installations.
The only opposition to the bill has come from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-profit group that’s gasping at the $300 billion projected price tag spread over a 10-year period. The only way it’ll support the bill is if it’s compensated via wider spending cuts made in other areas. The committee wants a tit-for-tat since America’s veterans aren’t worth digging deeper for. Its wishes will not be granted.
Burn pits have been a thing of the past for almost a decade, but not before an estimated 3.5 million veterans deployed to the Mid-East were exposed to enough of the poisonous smoke to cause lifelong illnesses or death.
Here’s the irony. Once the U.S. military was made aware of how it was poisoning its own troops, the practice was immediately banned. However, ten years later the Department of Veterans Affairs still refuses to make things right with the medically afflicted by denying thousands of veteran disability claims as being “non-service related.”
Of the 12,582 medical claims made by burn pit victims between 2007 and 2020, only 20%, or 2,828, were approved. This doesn’t account for the multitudes of veterans who’ve never submitted claims due to being unaware of their illness’s source, some of whom are no longer with us.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough compared the bill to a similar one passed in 1991 that granted 2 million veterans medical care for agent orange exposure in Vietnam. “We support the expansion of access to VA health care in the PACT Act and will work to ensure that the expansion of eligibility for health care does not result in the delay or disruption of care for those Veterans already receiving health care from VA,” he said.
The legislation will provide care and disability coverage for an array of cancers, asthma, emphysema, pulmonary diseases, and a smorgasbord of respiratory ailments. The VA will also start questioning veterans about toxic smoke exposure to make those who may be unaware of their medical conditions being tied to burn pits.
Jen Burch, a communications associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, summed the bill up by saying, “Toxic exposure is affecting countless veterans; some don’t even know it yet.” She said the bill will “remove the burden of proof from the veterans and ensure the 80 percent of veterans previously denied will now have the benefits they have earned.”
Burch got it right by saying that what veterans are about to receive was earned. And for God’s sake, they shouldn’t be forced to prove anything as a way for the VA to deny their claims. The only remaining question is if it’s too little too late, for which the only correct answer would be yeah, for some… But we’ll take it.