Millions of Veterans Fighting the Effects of Toxic Exposure from Burn Pits are Waiting on Stalled Senate Bill

Millions of veterans have been waiting for the passage of the PACT ACT. This $278.5 billion bill would make the federal government responsible for compensation and health care for veterans fighting the effects of toxic exposure from burn pits.

The U.S. military has used burn pits to eliminate household garbage, but it also includes toxic substances like plastics, paint, metals, and human waste. Fires burning the toxic chemicals were often close to where service members worked and lived overseas.

According to a Fox News interview, former Army combat engineer Andrew Myatt is one of the 3.5 million veterans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and was exposed to toxic chemicals. Myatt was diagnosed with skin cancer after fighting aggressive leukemia for three years. He now has lung problems, likely linked to inhaling toxic fumes during his deployment in Iraq.

“When I was initially diagnosed with leukemia, burn pits was the farthest from my mind,” said Myatt to Fox News . “I never probably would have made that connection on my own without the help of my veteran service officer.” Myatt’s veteran service officer is with the Wounded Warrior Project, which advocates for veterans across the country.

While serving in Iraq on 9/11, Myatt closely encountered burn pits. During his time in Iraq, Myatt said he was concerned about insurgents and IEDs. “My focus was just getting through it and trying to stay alive and not where did it come from or why,” he said of his cancer.

Myatt said that despite his healthy lifestyle, he was not in control of the environment. “I don’t eat any type of fast food, don’t drink soda. I can’t control the world around me, but I can control what I bring in my home and what I put in me.”
Ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kan., has fought alongside Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., for the bipartisan bill. Together, they managed to cut the cost of the bill from half a trillion dollars to just over $278.5 billion over ten years.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the legislation would be a high priority once it is sent to the House for a vote. Likewise, President Biden has promised to sign the bill once it hits his desk. President Biden has said he has a personal reason for supporting the bill. “When they came home, many of the fittest and best-trained warriors we’ve ever had were not the same; headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer. My son Beau was one of them,” he said.

Supporters of the bill: ‘Long overdue’

Senator Moran said the bill is long overdue. “We’ve been focused for a long time on the physical consequences of war. More recently, the mental consequences of war. And now we are focused on these chemical substances that come into the lives of our men and women who serve our nation.”

The legislation underscores the continued cost of war long after the fighting has stopped. It is backed by the nation’s major veteran’s groups. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would increase spending by more than $300 billion over the next decade if passed into law.

When passed, the legislation would open up Department of Veterans Affairs health care to millions of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their length of service. It would also provide new or increased benefits for disability for thousands of veterans who have become ill with respiratory conditions, bronchitis, or chronic pulmonary disease (COPD). The VA would presume that veterans had developed their conditions due to exposure to a toxic substance while serving.