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Two Michigan representatives push relief for veterans suffering from 'burn pit' illnesses

out of focus soldiers stand in front of a raised american flag
Bumble Dee
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A congressional committee will hear testimony next week on the need to speed up health care benefits for service members exposed totoxic burn pitsoverseas. 

Two Michigan representatives are behind the "Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act of 2021" to accomplish that.

For decades, the U.S. military has used burn pits to dispose of garbage — including plastics, toxic chemicals, and human waste — in war zones overseas.

An estimated 3.5 million veterans have been exposed to burn pits, while serving overseas. Many have been diagnosed with a variety illnesses, including cancer. But when they come home, servicemen and women, who have sought medical treatment for illnesses possibly related to the burn pits, have often run into a wall of “red tape.”

If combat veterans do not seek medical treatment from the Veterans Administration during the five-year period immediately after their tours of duty, they will have to wait for their claim to be approved before getting care at a VA facility. That process often ends with a denial of care.

Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) says the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense need to stop denying more than three-quarters of burn pit health claims.

“Because it’s simply unacceptable that we have far too many of our service members coming down with ailments far earlier than they should, at far greater rates than they should, and the DoD and VA are trying to wash their hands of it,” says Meijer.

Since 2014, the Veterans Administration has built a registry,  which listed more than 200,00 veterans with known burn pit exposures.

The frustration that veterans of Iraq and other recent conflicts face getting medical care for burn pit-related illnesses has been equated to the challenge once faced by Vietnam veterans.

“I think of burn pits as this generation’s Agent Orange,” says Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly).

This is an issue that is personal to Reps. Slotkin and Meijer. Both served in Iraq and both were also exposed to burn pits during their tours of duty.

The two Michigan lawmakers are pushing legislation to eliminate the “red tape” that is preventing veterans from receiving medical care from the Veterans Administration.

The U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee is scheduled to discuss the issue next Wednesday.

The U.S. Senate is considering similar legislation.

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Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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