November 18, 2011

Senators Introduce Burn Pit Amendment to Help Veterans

Defense Authorization Amendment Creates Registry for Open-Air Burn Pit Victims

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today offered a bipartisan amendment to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act to create a national registry of service members and veterans impacted by open air burn pits, helping identify and take better care of those affected. Joining them as co-sponsors of the amendment are Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Mark Udall (D-Colo.).The amendment is identical to the senators' Open Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011, introduced earlier this month.

As early as 2002, U.S. military installations in Afghanistan and Iraq began to rely on open-air burn pits to dispose of waste materials. The U.S. Department of Defense made frequent use of burn pits at a number of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan despite concerns about air pollution.

The amendment creates a similar registry to the Agent Orange Registry and the Gulf War Registry. The establishment of an open burn pit registry will help the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) determine to what extent air pollution, caused by open air burn pits, has led to medical diseases among service members. The amendment will also serve as a vehicle for improved communication and information dissemination for affected veterans.

"There are veterans in New Mexico today suffering from invisible wounds due to their exposure to open-air burn pits," said Tom Udall (NM). "Creating this registry is a crucial first step to identifying these victims and getting them the help they need."

"Establishing this registry will help us understand the consequences of using open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Corker. "Our men and women in uniform who served in close proximity to these pits certainly deserve to understand how that service may have impacted their health and what resources may be available to them."

"Establishing an open burn pit registry will allow veterans to build a record of the health problems they have encountered because of their service," Bingaman said.

"Creating a registry is just one way we can help those affected by burn pits get the care they need," said Bill Nelson (Fla.).

"We all know that the men and women of our Armed Services risk their very lives to protect us, but what some might not realize is that many are also exposed to toxins and hazardous materials that could affect their lifelong health, and such veterans deserve all the medical help they need when they get home," Alexander said.

"The toxic chemicals produced by open burn pits created a serious health risk for our brave men and women serving overseas." McCaskill said. "My office has worked with one victim from St. Louis and has seen the very real challenges veterans harmed by burn pits face, which is why this legislation is so important. Just because an illness is new or complex does not mean we can let those veterans who are suffering, very likely because of their burn pit exposure, slip through the cracks. We owe our full support to those who have served and sacrificed, especially when they become sick as a result of their service."

"Our heroes' health may be seriously impacted from the use of burn pits in combat zones, and we owe it to those affected to collect all the information necessary to properly take care of them when they get home," Mark Udall (CO) said. "This registry will help create a database of those who have been exposed to burn pits and improve communication so that important health services can actually get to them."

The amendment will:

  • Establish and maintain an open burn pit registry for those individuals who may have been exposed during their military service;
  • Include information in this registry that the Secretary of the VA determines applicable to possible health effects of this exposure;
  • Develop a public information campaign to inform individuals about the registry;
  • Periodically notify members of the registry of significant developments associated with burn pit exposure;
  • Require an assessment and report to Congress by an independent scientific organization.