December 22, 2015

Udall Provision to Require VA Report on Burn Pits will help Advance Care and Treatment for Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall announced that he secured a provision in the "omnibus" appropriations bill signed by the president last week requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to report on the status and findings of its burn pit registry. The registry -- which was created by Udall's Burn Pits Registry Act -- is the first step toward providing medical care and research for service members and veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Udall is working to ensure the VA and Department of Defense (DOD) strengthen and build on the creation of the registry and continue to advance their understanding of how burn pit exposure has affected veterans' health. The VA's findings are a crucial step in that process.

This provision is the next step after Udall's amendment to this year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requiring the VA and the DOD to share information about when and how service members may have been exposed to airborne hazards and open burn pits. The military used burn pits to incinerate everything from medical waste to unexploded ordnance.

"Many of our servicemen and women were exposed to toxic fumes and chemicals from burn pits while serving our country overseas," Udall said. "Some, like Master Sergeant Jessey Baca of New Mexico, are already battling illnesses that they can trace to that exposure. We don't know the longterm effects others will experience throughout their lives, but the burn pits registry was a first step. The VA and DOD need to keep working to share research and information so that we can ensure Iraq and Afghanistan veterans get the treatment they have earned. And the VA's report, which is now required under law thanks to my work as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, will keep this process moving forward."

Veterans and service members who were exposed to burn pits overseas can sign up for the registry here: https://veteran.mobilehealth.va.gov/AHBurnPitRegistry

Udall authored and championed the bipartisan Burn Pits Registry Act to establish the national registry, and it was signed into law by the president in 2013. Udall began work on the legislation after meeting with New Mexican SMSgt Jessey Baca and his wife, Maria, and learning about Jessey's battle with cancer, chronic bronchiolitis, chemical induced asthma, brain lesions, and numerous other ailments believed to have been caused by exposure to burn pits in Iraq.

The burn pits registry is similar to the Agent Orange and Gulf War registries that have helped patients, doctors and the VA. It will help determine to what extent air pollution caused by open air burn pits has led to medical conditions among service members.