February 26, 2019

Udall, Sullivan, Ruiz, Wenstrup Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Strengthen Burn Pit Registry

Bill would create more effective registry to help determine full health impacts of burn pits and develop health care treatments for veterans

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and U.S. Representatives Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) and Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) introduced bipartisan legislation, the Burn Pit Registry Enhancement Act, to strengthen and enhance the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) registry of service members and veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

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 Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Registry – first established under 2013 legislation authored by Udall and former U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) – helps veterans, doctors, and the VA monitor veterans' health, keep them informed about studies and treatments, and improve programs to help veterans who are concerned that they may have been exposed to toxic chemicals while they were deployed.

The bipartisan Burn Pit Registry Enhancement Act legislation would ensure that the burn pit registry is updated with the cause of death of registered individuals, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the health of individuals on the registry, including if any of their health complications or cause of death were the result of burn pit exposure. This important information will better enable the registry to support research into the range of health impacts from burn pits that emitted toxic compounds and develop appropriate health care responses for veterans to improve their lives.

“As one of the first members of Congress to champion the creation of the national registry, I’m committed to strengthening and building on our efforts to better understand how burn pit exposure has affected veterans’ health,” said Udall. “Many of our servicemen and women were exposed to toxic fumes and chemicals from burn pits while serving our country overseas. Some, like Master Sergeant Jessey Baca of New Mexico, have courageously battled illnesses that they can trace to that exposure. This bill is a crucial and straight forward next step to enhance the burn pit registry, helping us to gather more information so that veterans can receive the answers they deserve and the medical treatment they have earned.”

“Open burn pits have emerged as an insidious danger to the well-being of our brave service members years after their wartime service,” said Sullivan. “We must keep veterans and their loved ones acquainted with research into the hazards posed by toxic airborne chemicals and the medical developments that could help protect them from serious illnesses. As a member of both the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services Committees, I’m pleased to cosponsor legislation that enhances this important registry, so our men and women in uniform are able to return to a healthy and safe civilian life.”

“Our veterans who have been exposed to burn pits deserve to know how their exposure may affect their health, and one of our best tools for making that determination is the burn pit registry,” said Dr. Ruiz. “For too long, our government has turned a blind eye to veterans like my constituent Jennifer Kepner, whose entry in the registry still does not reflect her cause of death: pancreatic cancer that most probably is a result of her exposure to burn pits. I will keep fighting to protect the health of our servicemembers and veterans, and get them the health care and benefits they have earned and deserve.”

“As an Iraq war veteran and a doctor, I understand the impacts of war are far-reaching. They go beyond battle injuries and can arise later in life to the detriment of the veteran and his or her family. In order for the VA to understand how exposure to burn pits impacted servicemembers, they must maintain an accurate and complete registry. This legislation will ensure appropriate records are kept so we can determine the best course of action to assist those with service related illnesses,” said Wenstrup, Co-Chair of the Burn Pit Caucus.

The Burn Pit Registry Enhancement Act would:

 Ensure that the burn pit registry may be updated with the cause of death of a registered individual;

— Allow a designated individual or immediate family member to report the cause of death of a registered individual;

— Provide a process by which a registered individual may make a designation regarding who is to make the report to the registry on their behalf;

Previously, Udall, along with former U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) authored and championed the bipartisan Burn Pits Registry Act, which was signed into law in 2013, to establish a national registry to help patients, doctors and 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.