Breakthrough reached on veteran burn pit legislation

Health

(NewsNation) —  Lawmakers have reached a deal that could finally provide millions of veterans with the help they desperately need and deserve.

Leaders on both sides of the aisle lined up behind an agreement to provide health disability benefits to service members exposed to toxic chemicals and burn pits while serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and as far back as Vietnam and the Cold War.

The legislation has been years in the making, but it’s not across the finish line just yet. Still, the deal is a massive step in the direction of getting benefits to veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.

Burn pits are massive holes the U.S. military dug during wars that were used to burn everything from equipment to human waste. Veterans breathing in that air and getting sick had to prove they were getting sick because of the burn pits, which was nearly impossible to do.

The bill at hand would consider 23 illnesses presumptive, meaning the burden of proof will no longer be on these veterans or soldiers, so they can get help.

The measure is also expected to help veterans who served in Vietnam by expanding the number of illnesses presumed to be related to Agent Orange to include hypertension, significantly increasing the number of veterans able to receive these benefits.

NewsNation asked the Pentagon how they will help the VA in identifying soldiers who have potentially been impacted by burn pits.

“I don’t want to get ahead of pending legislation here. We try not to comment on that. But I do want to make clear how seriously the secretary (of Defense) takes this issue. Having been a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s a personal thing for him,” a Pentagon spokesperson said.

The burn pit legislation must still work its way through the Senate and the House. It comes with a price tag of more than $250 billion over 10 years.

Advocates who have been fighting for this bill for years will be back on Capitol Hill again on Memorial Day weekend alongside comedian Jon Stewart, who has devoted time and energy to push the bill across the finish line by next month.

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