Lawmakers this week introduced a bill that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to document, track and notify Congress of all cases of burn pit exposure reported by veterans.
Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, introduced the bipartisan Sfc. Heath Robinson Burn Pit Transparency Act, which they say aims to help burn pit-exposed vets who often have difficulty with VA claims because records of burn pit exposure during military service are often incomplete or nonexistent.
The legislation is named for Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson, an Ohio Army National Guard soldier who died last month at 39 after a three-year battle with lung cancer, which he and his family believed was caused by his exposure to burn pits during his Middle East deployment.
“Heath may have died but his legacy will continue through his deeds and sacrifices," said Danielle Robinson, Heath's wife. "He is a man who, after fighting for his country in Iraq and returning safely from a war zone, ended up fighting the battle of his life against the war that followed him home. Heath is at peace knowing his resolve to help other burn pit veterans will continue and it's an honor to have the Sfc. Heath Robinson Burn Pit Transparency Act named after him,."
“There’s no doubt that burn pits are the Agent Orange of our generation. Service members that were exposed in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeing horrible health effects and are dying as a result,” Mast said in a statement Tuesday. “We’ve made progress, but much more must be done, which is why we need this bill to track exposure to burn pits so exposed veterans can get the care they need.”
The legislation builds on a previous bill Mast and Gabbard partnered on, the Burn Pits Accountability act, which passed as part of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act in December.
But the current VA burn pit registry is voluntary, and "many are unaware of it," the lawmakers said. The new bill aims to "close that gap" by making sure that all veterans who discuss their exposure with their doctors are aware of the registry and their chance to be added to it.
VA estimates as many as 3.5 million veterans and service members are eligible for their burn pit and airborne toxic exposure registry. As of last month, more than 204,000 veterans and troops had added their names to the list.
Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
For information on how to add yourself to VA's burn pit and airborne hazard registry, click here.
Need help with toxic exposure? Click here for a list of resources and information on VA and Defense Department registries.
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