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US House votes to expand veterans' health benefits for burn pit exposure

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The House passed a bill that would expand health care benefits for veterans exposed to trash burn pits on U.S. military bases.

The bill presumes service members stationed in a combat zone over the last 32 years could have been exposed to toxic substances, slashing barriers for those who did not previously have what was considered adequate proof of exposure.

U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin represents Michigan's 8th Congressional District. She introduced the bill as part of a larger bill package on toxic exposures in the military that's moving through Congress.

She estimates an additional 3.5 million veterans would get access to health benefits.

"People are going to get the health care they need and they're not going to have to fight to prove that that weird, esophageal cancer or lung cancer that they have — that weird thing that they're dealing with — is service related,” Slotkin said. “It is now presumed."

It’s one of the largest expansions of veteran benefits in 20 years, Slotkin said, also noting its similarity to the 1991 Agent Orange Act, which expanded access for Vietnam veterans exposed to the toxic substance used as a herbicide. Agent Orange also endangered generations of Laotians, the New York Times reported.

The bill requires the VA to conduct a full medical examination on veterans to determine a potential connection between an ailment and past toxic exposure.

Slotkin said health care providers will be trained on 23 different illnesses that could be connected to toxic exposure and burn pits.

The bill authorizes a projected $285 billion over the next decade.

She expects the legislation to pass the Senate and hopes it reaches the President’s desk by August 1.

Sophia Kalakailo joined Michigan Radio in Sept. 2021 and is a senior at Michigan State University studying journalism and minoring in documentary production. She previously interned at Bridge Michigan and was an editor for The State News and The Eastern Echo covering a wide range of topics.
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