What Is The ‘Burn Pits’ Legislation ?
A surprise deal on health care and environmental policies announced by Senate Democratic leaders last Wednesday afternoon produced an unexpected casualty: the comprehensive toxic exposure legislation veterans advocates expected to pass this week.
The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act — better known as the PACT Act — had been up for a procedural vote in the chamber with an expectation of final passage before the end of the week.
This bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to concede, for the purposes of health care benefits and wartime disability compensation, that a veteran was exposed to certain toxic substances, chemicals, and hazards from burn pits if such veteran served on active duty in a covered location during a specified time frame (unless there is affirmative evidence to establish that the veteran was not exposed during such service). A burn pit is an area used for burning solid waste in open air without equipment.
Specifically, the bill covers the following locations and corresponding time periods:
- Iraq between August 2, 1990, and February 28, 1991, as well as from March 19, 2003, until burn pits are no longer used in this location;
- Southwest Asia (including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar) from August 2, 1990, until burn pits are no longer used in these locations; and
- Afghanistan, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, and Djibouti from September 11, 2001, until burn pits are no longer used in these locations.
Under the bill, if an exposed veteran submits insufficient evidence to establish a service-connection for purposes of disability compensation, the VA shall provide a medical examination and request a medical opinion regarding a causal link between the disability and a toxin, chemical, or hazard.
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Picture above shows a Marine disposing of trash at a burn pit in Forward Operating Base Zeebrudge in Afghanistan on March 6, 2013. (Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz/Marine Corps)