Millions of military veterans are at long last being recognized by the federal government for illnesses associated with inhaling toxic burn pit smoke while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The thick smoke was loaded with dangerous chemicals and fumes from burning rubbage that included tires, used motor oil, discarded bandages, and at times even human feces. Every single waste item from toothpicks to barrels of harsh chemicals was set ablaze. What else were they supposed to do with it?
Regardless of why it was done, it was done, and many veterans are now suffering from the long-term effects of having to breathe it. Some veterans have said the smoke would waft through their tents at night. They were inhaling the poison even as they slept. They were in a constant fog. Because of the stench, the pits were referred to as “poo-ponds.”
Slated to be passed later this summer, the Senate reached an agreement on new military toxic exposure legislation to address the issue. Ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) touted the legislation as “the most comprehensive toxic exposure package” in American history.
Technically, it’s the first piece of legislation ever devoted solely to this specific issue, but who’s to squabble over minor details?
Together with Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., the two said, “For far too long, our nation’s veterans have been living with chronic illnesses as a result of exposures during their time in uniform. Today, we’re taking necessary steps to right this wrong with our proposal that’ll provide veterans and their families with the health care and benefits they have earned and deserve.”
The proposed Comprehensive Toxins Act, or PACT Act, would recognize 23 separate respiratory illnesses and cancers known to be associated with smoke from burn pits.
But wait. There’s more. Cold War veterans, after decades of being ignored, will receive new and better benefits for the constant and intensive radiation exposure they had no idea they were being targeted with during their deployments. Especially as they age, many of them have developed extreme neurological issues.
Vietnam vets, after way too long, are going to get help for having the pleasure of inhaling Agent Orange. Chronic hypertension and monoclonal gammopathy are but two of the medical issues to be addressed in the bill.
Astoundingly, one in every five veterans will qualify for additional benefits. For some, the bill comes too late. So, while the bill’s passage will indeed be a victory for veterans, the victory is bittersweet. The thought is, “where were you, when”…
At any rate, the feds will be putting aside $207 billion to be spread out over a 10-year period. The V.A. will be bringing in more medical specialists in specific areas and these new faces are expected to push the figure higher.
Because the air quality surrounding burn pits was never measured, it’s been scientifically difficult to prove that they were the culprits for the illnesses being experienced today. But, common sense and sheer numbers speak otherwise, and for probably the first time in American history, common sense is winning.
It’s estimated that 3.5 million service members were exposed to burn pit smoke during the 20-year-war. Of those, only a handful has ever received benefits, and this was only after years and mountains of paperwork submitted in triplicate.
Once the bill passes, but only as the legislation is currently written, a veteran can visit any V.A. with any of the symptoms on the proposed list and it will be assumed that burn pits were to blame. No further questions will be asked.
While veterans should be dancing in the streets, at least the ones who are still able to, they aren’t spinning and twirling yet. Promises are cheap and they’ve learned this better than anyone. The legislation hasn’t passed yet.
Even with its passage, in the eyes of many of America’s patriotic heroes, it’ll be too little too late. They’ve been suffering for years as they’ve watched their brothers and sisters in arms fall by the wayside with no help from the government they served under.
Be that as it may, every U.S. military veteran has also learned that sometimes you gotta take what you can get when you can get it.