June 13, 2012

VIDEO & PHOTO - Udall: It's Time to Give Burn Pit Victims Answers

WASHINGTON - At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee today, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) testified in support of his bill to create a registry for returning servicemembers and veterans experiencing health problems due to open-air burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq. Click here to see video and photo of Udall at today's hearing.

During his testimony, Udall pointed to MSgt Jessey Baca and his wife Maria, who traveled from New Mexico to attend the hearing. Last year, after hearing MSgt Baca's story, Udall introduced the Open Burn Pits Registry Act to help track and trace a multitude of health problems in veterans associated with their proximity to burn pits.

"His journey to be here today was not easy," Udall said. "He has battled cancer, chronic bronchiolitis, chemical induced asthma, brain lesions, TBI, PTSD and numerous other ailments. Maria has traveled that difficult road with him. They know firsthand the suffering caused by burn pits and the need for answers. It is because of them and so many others like them that we are here today."

"This hearing really puts the focus on the issue and what we've been working for. The ball's in their court now," said MSgt Baca.

"It encourages us that Senator Udall has been so active in this fight and is right there with us," Maria added.

MSgt Baca was stationed at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, which hosted approximately 25,000 personnel at the height of operations. It also hosted over ten acres of land for burning toxic debris.

"Commanders had to find a way to dispose of the waste while concentrating on the important mission at hand," said Udall. "The solution that was chosen, however, had serious risks. Pits of waste were set on fire, sometimes using jet fuel for ignition. Some burn pits were small, but others covered multiple acres of land. Oftentimes, these burn pits would turn the sky black."

Udall read a description of MSgt Baca's symptoms as told by Maria. "When he breathes, he can breathe in but he can't breathe out. That's the problem that he's having. It feels like a cactus coming out of his chest. He feels like these splinters and he can't get rid of them."

The Department of the Army has confirmed the dangers posed by burn pits, and veterans and their families have reached out to Congress for action.

S.1798 The Open Burn Pits Registry Act would:

  • 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; and
  • Periodically notify members of the registry of significant developments associated with burn pit exposure.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is the lead Republican cosponsor of the legislation in the Senate and Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) introduced the companion measure in the House.

The bill is supported by numerous groups, including Burn Pits 360, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Association of the U.S. Navy, Retired Enlisted Association, the Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees and the National Military Family Association.