Committee Unanimously Advances Sullivan-Manchin Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), both members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC), today thanked members of the committee for passing S. 2950, the Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition Act of 2019, their legislation to address a barrier currently preventing many veterans from getting U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care and benefits for illnesses and diseases related to exposure to burn pits. The act would recognize and concede a veteran’s exposure during deployed service. Notably, the bill would not automatically grant benefits or health care to veterans who served near a burn pit, nor would it create a presumption of service connection. 

“Thousands of America’s finest served in the vicinity of a burn pit, a reality we now know can contribute to health complications years down the road,” said Senator Sullivan. “With the sobering lesson of Agent Orange and Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans in mind, we cannot wait decades to resolve this barrier to care for illnesses and diseases that may be related to burn pit exposure – care that America’s veterans have earned and sacrificed for. I want to thank my fellow committee members for recognizing the urgency of our legislation and for their unanimous support.” 

“Today the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Act, legislation Senator Sullivan and I have been advocating for since last year when we introduced the bill. We made a promise to the men and women who fought bravely defending America, often in terrible conditions and environments, that when they returned home we would make sure they were taken care of. Our legislation will make it easier for Veterans exposed to open-air burn pits in places like the Middle East and Afghanistan to apply for care and benefits so they do not have to wait years and years like many other Veterans previously. I am proud of our work to get this legislation to the Senate Floor and will continue to work with my bipartisan colleagues to get this commonsense legislation across the finish line. We must hold true to our commitment made to the patriotic men and women who served their country admirably and deserve these benefits and care,” said Senator Manchin.

“As a nation, we have a duty to care for the men and women suffering negative, long-term health effects from exposure to open air burn pits in the course of military service,” said Disabled American Veterans National Commander Stephen Whitehead. “Today’s approval by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee of the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act, helps to further fulfill that duty. We thank Senators Sullivan and Manchin for their leadership in this bipartisan effort that will help eliminate red tape and assist affected veterans seeking benefits for disabilities related to burn pits.”

The Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Act would:  

  • Acknowledge an information gap. Given the limited information that exists about exactly when and where burn pits were active, or the precise locations of individuals who served near them, it is unreasonable for a veteran to prove they were exposed to specific toxins from specific burn pits on specific days. 
  • Work in acknowledgment of ongoing research being conducted by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. 
  • Formally recognize that veterans who served near burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations were exposed to airborne hazards, toxins and particulate matters. This recognition and concession can potentially aid thousands of veterans who otherwise do not have documentation of their exposure. 
  • Not automatically grant benefits or health care to veterans who served near a burn pit. It also does not create a presumption of service connection, like veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The decisions on presumption of service connection will require further scientific study and evidence, much of which is ongoing. Even with a concession of exposure, veterans will still need to provide sufficient evidence of a link to a specific illness or disease in order to qualify for VA benefits.  

The legislation is also supported by veterans service organizations (VSOs) and military service organizations (MSOs), including Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the Fleet Reserve Association, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW),  the American Legion, American Veterans (AMVETS), Reserve Organization of America, and The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA).

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