Lawmakers and veteran advocates, including comedian Jon Stewart, are joining forces to help veterans get the aid they need.
Stewart talked with NewsNation’s Investigative Correspondent Rich McHugh about the urgency to provide benefits.
“If they come home and they are suffering from certain health conditions, well they’ve got to go before these medical boards,” Stewart said. “They have to be their own advocate, lawyer, doctor, scientist. And what the VA says is, OK you were in Balad, which had a hundred yard by hundred yard burn pit. We know these are the dioxins, cancerous causing chemicals and particulates that were there. It was burning 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You were downwind of it, now you have constrictive bronchiolitis. You don’t have the breath compacity to do the job you normally do, but prove it. Prove it to us that’s why, and it’s unacceptable.”
Stewart recently worked with John Feal, a 9/11 first responder and veterans advocate, to secure funding for 9/11 first responders. Now they are teaming up again to help victims of toxic burn pits who can’t get access to VA benefits.
“They made a commitment to us and stepped into a theatre of war and went down range on our behalf fighting for our freedoms and when they come home we treat them as though they are disposable,” said Stewart.
Feal said the comparison to 9/11 responders and what the soldiers exposed to burn pits are going through is “scary.”
“The same thing that happened to 9/11 responders is happening to these soldiers,” Feal said. “If I pump jet fuel into that beautiful room right there you are sitting in and in a year from now you have cancer, it’s from something that jet fuel made you sick. For them now to say they don’t have the science, we have the model, the 9/11 community has the model.”
The VA says, “all veterans of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom are eligible for five years of free VA health care regardless of service connection.”
But in the last 13 years, 78% of disability claims related to toxic exposure have been rejected by the VA.
“The VA should be acting on behalf of the veterans, not as an obstacle to them getting care,” Stewart added.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, introduced legislation to make it easier for victims to get VA benefits.
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis also has his own legislation to create an independent commission to investigate allegations of toxic exposure from troops and veterans.
While lawmakers on Capitol Hill work to get legislation passed, Stewart said he’ll fight for veterans rights to ensure they get the benefits they deserve.
“We always have our eye on what the goal is,” Stewart added.
For more information on Stewart and Feal’s efforts, visit the Military Toxic Exposure Coalition website.