MOAA and fellow veteran service organizations are building momentum as we continue to call on federal lawmakers to approve a measure tracking troops' exposure to burn pits during time in service.
Since its introduction in May, the Burn Pit Accountability Act has boosted its co-sponsors in the House and gained a complementary bill in the Senate. VSOs, including the Military Officers Association of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Reserve Officers of America, Vietnam Veterans of America and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, are calling on lawmakers to pass the bill this fall.
"We take this issue seriously because it affects so many - so many - veterans and currently serving servicemembers and family members, as well," said Army Col. (Ret.) Mike Barron, MOAA's director of Government Relations for currently serving and retired affairs. "We're going to keep pushing this hard. It's a very important issue to MOAA members and we hear that."
The number of co-sponsors has risen from six to 111, said Barron, who served as an infantry officer in Iraq and has felt the effects of burn pits.
Burn pits have been used as a way for servicemembers to dispose of waste at forward operating bases in theater. It was common for servicemembers to stand over metal drums, and stir the waste, which was set aflame by fuel.
Although not as visible as other job-related risks, such as jumping out of aircraft or walking through minefields, military members have said exposure to toxic chemicals is just as perilous.
The proposed legislation is a significant step since it would track known issues before a servicemember leaves the military. That information would be shared with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA said research does not indicate evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits, but it continues to study the health of deployed veterans.
The VA maintains an Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry for veterans and servicemembers to document their exposures and report health concerns.
The burn pit issue has been compared to the Vietnam er'a Agent-Orange crisis. Agent Orange, an herbicide chemical sprayed by aerial troops to destroy vegetation used for enemy cover in Vietnam has caused illness to more than 3 million people, according to government data.
Barron said he would continue working with VSOs to push the legislation.
"The ultimate goal really is to get this into legislation and we'll continue to work with the Armed Services Committee as well as with the Veterans Affairs Committee," he said. "We want to get this into law and the target on that would be in the National Defense Authorization Act this next year. We feel really good about the momentum we have going right now and we'll keep that up going into the next Congress."
Are you on the Open Burn Pit Registry?
Eligible veterans include those who served in:
- Operation Enduring Freedom
- Operation Iraqi Freedom
- Operation New Dawn
- Djibouti, Africa, on or after Sept. 11, 2001
- Operation Desert Shield
- Operation Desert Storm
- Southwest Asia theater of operations on or after Aug. 2, 1990