VAM Email Alert: September 2020

September 2020


** All About Burn Pits
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Over the last several months, a number of high-profile pieces of legislation have been filed that aim to address the ongoing issue of burn pit exposure, several of which we mentioned in the August newsletter. Many of these bills are meant to augment the Burn Pits Accountability Act, which was included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 20. The IMF and VAM supported the inclusion of that Act.

The Burn Pits Accountability Act automatically requires the Department of Defense (DOD) to evaluate servicemembers for toxic exposure during routine medical exams and enrolls current service members in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry if they were stationed in an area where an open-air burn pit was used to dispose of waste or if the service member was exposed to toxic airborne chemicals.

Other amendments to the NDAA for FY20 that became law related to burn pits include the requirement for DOD to conduct an implementation plan to phase out the use of the nine active burn pits identified in an April 2019 report to Congress and to provide Congress and the Veterans Administration with a list of the locations of military bases, posts, forward operating bases, combat outposts, and any other locations at which open-air burn pits have been used.

But many advocates and members of congress have noted that simply enrolling service members in the registry is not enough. Below is a list of bills meant to build upon the success of the Burn Pits Accountability Act that were not mentioned in last months newsletter.

H.R. 7072/S. 3885, the SFC Heath Robinson Burn Pit Transparency Act (https://give.myeloma.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=263) , would require the Secretary of Veteran Affairs (VA) to document a veteran who may have been exposed to burn pits and notify Congress of these cases quarterly; require the VA to submit a biannual report to Congress identifying how many veterans complain of burn pit exposure, how many make disability claims and what the outcome of those claims are, a comprehensive list of conditions burn pit exposed veterans have, and the location of burn pits; and require healthcare providers to inform a veteran who mentions “burn pits” about the existing Burn Pit Registry so they have knowledge of the Registry and can register themselves.

H.R. 7597/S. 1790, the DOD Burn Pits Research Status Act (https://give.myeloma.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=342) , would require the DOD to provide a report to Congress on the status and timeline for completion of all studies being conducted or funded by the DOD to assess the health effects of burn pits. It would also require DOD to include potential challenges to completing studies and recommendations on how Congress can help DOD finish outstanding studies.

H.R. 7596, the DOD Burn Pits Health Provider Training Act (https://give.myeloma.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=345) , would require DOD to implement mandatory training for all medical providers working under DOD on the potential health effects of burn pits.

H.R. 7599, the Reducing Exposure to Burn Pits Act (https://give.myeloma.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=348) , would require DOD to include in their budget request to Congress an estimate of funding exclusively dedicated for incinerators and waste-to-energy waste disposal alternatives to burn pits.

H.R. 7598, the Post-Deployment Burn Pit Question Act (https://give.myeloma.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=351) , would require DOD to include a separate, stand-alone question about burn pit exposure in the Post Deployment Health Assessments (DD Form 2796) to increase reporting of Burn Pit Exposure.

H.R. 7600, the Burn Pit Registry Expansion Act (https://give.myeloma.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=354) , would require DOD and VA to expand the Burn Pits Registry to include Egypt and Syria.

VAM has created an action alert for each of these bills, click on the title of the bill to offer your support.

More recently, the difficulty of veterans in receiving their benefits for burn pit exposure has prompted Senator Gillibrand and Representative Ruiz to introduceS. 4524/H.R. 8261 the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act. (https://give.myeloma.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=357)

The bill would establish a list of new diseases as service-connected for which veterans can receive VA benefits as a result of toxic exposure while serving in the military. The bill would amend 38 U.S.C. (the same section that provided for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange), to add the new list of diseases, including any form of cancer. The bill outlines the criteria for veterans eligible for presumptive conditions as those having served on active duty on or after August 2, 1990 and having spent a minimum of 15 or more cumulative days in one of the countries identified in the bill, or received a campaign medal for deployment to one of the missions considered part of the Global War on Terror and Gulf War.

Senator Gillibrand has had success with a similar issue just last year with the passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, a bill heavily supported by the IMF and VAM which restored benefits to over 100,000 veterans through a presumption of exposure to Agent Orange.

The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act has drawn support from big names like Jon Stewart, who has been a fierce advocate for 9/11 first responders and former VA Secretary David Shulkin, who noted that veterans suffering from the effects of burn pit exposure couldn’t wait for definitive proof between burn pits and their disease.

From 2007 to 2018, VA received more than 11,000 claims of illnesses veterans believed were caused by burn pit exposure, and VA denied about 80% of those claims.

The burden of establishing a firm link between toxic exposures and the illnesses they cause has proved heavy over the years, as Pentagon records of exposures are notoriously incomplete or nonexistent -- including the locations of burn pits and other hazards, leaving veterans waiting as they grow more ill or die.

Let legislators know you stand with the IMF and VAM by contacting your Members of Congress with your support. You can click the highlighted bill names in this newsletter to complete our action alerts for each bill, or CLICK HERE (http://give.myeloma.org/site/PageNavigator/ActionCenter/FederalWork.html) to see our federal issues alert page.


** VA COVID-19 Deaths Continue to Rise
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This month, the VA hit a milestone for coronavirus related deaths at 3,000, with 820 passing in August alone and about a third of all deaths having occurred in the 40 days before September. The increase is deaths from July, about 67% higher, have been cause for concern, but VA officials have cautioned against comparing their patient population to the rest of the country, noting the increased dangers the virus presents to individuals who are elderly and infirm, two descriptors that encompass most of the department’s medical cases.

The VA has noted that while deaths have risen, the number of active cases has decreased, down almost 35% between August and September.

More than 53,000 VA patients have been diagnosed with coronavirus since the start of March. Most of those patients are veterans, with a little more than 1,000 additional patients who are active-duty military, dependents of veterans, and non-veterans in communities where other health care systems have been overwhelmed by the virus (see our previous story on VA’s “fourth mission”).

In addition to the patient deaths, at least 52 VA employees have died from complications related to the virus.
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