On September 13, 2018 the House of Representatives voted to pass the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriation Act, 2019. Included in this large funding bill is the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act. This Act stems from an 18-month bipartisan effort to provide additional funding and resources towards identifying and treating the negative health impacts of exposure to burn pits.
WHAT IS THE HELPING VETERANS EXPOSED TO BURN PITS ACT?
The Act directs VA to establish a center of excellence in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits and other environmental exposures in Afghanistan and Iraq. The current center, VA Airborne Hazards Center of Excellence (AHCE), will change to VA Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence. THE AHCE, established in 2013, is currently run by VA and responsible for providing an assessment of veterans’ cardiopulmonary function, military and nonmilitary exposures, and health-related symptoms for those with airborne hazard concerns. The Act now calls for the AHCE to develop a concentration in burn pit study and research.
$5 MILLION DOLLARS PROVIDED IN FUNDING
The AHCE is being provided with an additional $5 million dollars in funding specifically for burn pit research. This money will be used to prioritize understanding veterans’ health following service and exposure to airborne hazards, including open burn pits. Additionally, VA will be required to provide an assessment of the process for informing veterans and healthcare providers about the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry as well as their eligibility for registering. Furthermore, the center is required to provide access to and make use of the data accumulated by the registry. In selecting the center’s site, the Act calls for a building equipped with the specialized equipment needed to study, diagnose, and treat health conditions relating to burn pit exposure. The Act also directs the center to collaborate with the Department of Defense, institutions of higher education, and other public and private providers to offer education, treatment, and training.
MOTIVATION BEHIND THE ACT
In developing and pushing for the implementation of this Act, members of Congress have noted an effort to prevent burn pits from becoming “the Agent Orange of this generation of soldiers”. Specifically, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) stated, “After the Vietnam War, it took the U.S. government years to recognize that there was a link between Agent Orange and its devastating health effects on our soldiers. With an increasing number of servicemembers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan citing illnesses, we can’t make that same tragic mistake again by failing to identify the devastating health effects associated with burn pits”. The Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act is an initial step towards getting veterans the treatment they need upon returning home.