On July 27, 2017, Burn Pits 360 and Amnesty International hosted a bipartisan congressional briefing on toxic exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of the military’s use of open-air burn pits. CCK’s Kerry Baker, a leader in the field of toxic exposure and veterans’ benefits, joined a panel of experts to discuss the health issues associated with burn pit exposure, and the obstacles that veterans face in acquiring specialized health care and benefits as a result of their exposures. Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) co-sponsored the event.
The briefing, titled “Toxic Wounds of War: Protecting Veterans Exposed to Open Air Burn Pits” was moderated by Elizabeth Beavers, Senior Campaigner for Security With Human Rights at Amnesty International USA, and Rosie Torres, Executive Director of Burn Pits 360. Kerry Baker, a combat-disabled veteran of the Marines who represents disabled veterans before the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims (CAVC), was joined by three medical experts who have treated burn pit patients and studied the effects of toxic exposure on veterans.
In his remarks, Kerry highlighted the VBA’s failure to adequately train its employees to handle burn pit claims – the unnecessary and irrelevant development of claims, a lack of adherence to VA’s own guidelines on evaluating evidence, and medical opinions given by unqualified C&P examiners whose only training on the health effects of burn pits is a one-page “fact sheet.”
What’s more, Kerry explained, the VA doesn’t track which claims are burn pit-related. “Without a tracking system, veterans’ advocates are left in the dark,” Kerry said. “We don’t know how many burn pit-related claims have been submitted, how many have been denied, which medical issues are being reported, or how long veterans are waiting to get an answer.”
Kerry urged members of Congress to take action to hold the government accountable for the devastating health effects of burn pit exposure, noting that the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs only addressed the health consequences of Agent Orange after Congress passed legislation forcing them to do so.
The panelists and hosts of the event were supported by veterans and families of the fallen, who met on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. to demand justice for the victims of burn pit exposure.