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Peters, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Improve Health Services for Servicemembers Exposed to Toxic Burn Pits

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today announced he has joined his colleagues to introduce bipartisan legislation to protect veterans exposed to toxic chemicals during their service. The Burn Pits Accountability Act would require that servicemembers be assessed for exposure to open toxic burn pits as part of their routine health exams. Burn pits were frequently used on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to burn waste, including plastics, electronics and batteries. These pits have since been linked to cancer, cardiovascular toxicity, reproductive issues and neurological damage.

“We know many of our men and women in uniform were exposed to toxic chemicals that have serious health consequences. We must ensure they have wrap-around care to minimize the impacts,” said Senator Peters, a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “I will continue working to ensure that our servicemembers have the support they need to be treated for health issues that resulted from their work on the line of duty.”

“Senator Peters is right on with reintroducing this,” said Carol L. Herbert, Executive Director, American Veterans Department of Michigan. “We don't want our veterans to have to wait as long as our Vietnam veterans did with Agent Orange issues before they received help. I encourage Congress to pass this bill immediately so our younger veterans can be taken care of.”

"I would like to thank Senator Peters for helping introduce the Burn Pit Accountability Act. The health and welfare of our military is paramount to military readiness,” said Shannon Adams, IAVA Member Leader, Michigan.  “As service members, we all accept the risk of injury from enemy action and working in austere environments. What we don’t accept is preventable harm to our health while deployed. Directing the DoD to include toxic exposure in periodic health assessments is not only the right thing to do, but it increases readiness and protection of our most valued asset: our people that go into harm’s way. When veterans and service members are harmed or face health-related issues because of their service, the DoD has the responsibility to support them.”

The Burn Pits Accountability Act would require that servicemembers be evaluated for exposure to toxic airborne chemicals during routine health exams. In doing so, the legislation establishes better guidance for the Department of Defense (DoD) to track the extent of exposure. Affected servicemembers would also be enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, which helps monitor the health conditions of servicemembers and veterans.

This bipartisan legislation has also been endorsed by a number of organizations, including the Fleet Reserve Association, the Military Officers Association of America, the US Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Non Commissioned Officers Association, the Service Women’s Action Network, the US Army Warrant Officer Association, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the US, the Retired Enlisted Association, the Chief Warrant Officer Association- US Coast Guard, the Air Force Sergeants Association, the National Military Family Association, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, the Wounded Warrior Project, the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the AMSUS, the American Veterans (AMVETS), the Reserve Officers Association of the United States, the Air Force Women Officers Associated, the Disabled American Veterans, and the Association of the United States Navy.

Peters has long been a strong voice in Congress for Michigan’s servicemembers and veterans. In 2016, President Obama signed into law Peters’ bipartisan Fairness for Veterans amendment that allows veterans with a bad paper discharge resulting from behavior caused by PTSD to petition for an upgrade in their discharge status, which would grant them access to benefits such as VA home loans and educational grants provided by the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.  Peters also introduced bipartisan legislation to modernize the current funereal benefit system for eligible veterans to recognize all non-service connected deaths equally, regardless of where the veteran passes away and has cosponsored legislation to extend care for Vietnam veterans and their descendants who are suffering from health complications due to exposure to Agent Orange.