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Senate approves burn pits legislation

By Matt Westerhold • Jun 29, 2019 at 2:00 PM

SANDUSKY — The Burn Pits Accountability Act took one step closer to getting sent to President Trump for his signature when the Senate approved the National Defense Authorization Act Tuesday afternoon and included an amendment based on the legislation. 

The next step is for the U.S. House to review its version of the NDAA. The two bills will be reconciled in a conference committee before being passed and sent to the president for signing.

For many years the military relied on open-air burn pits to dispose of toxic waste in Afghanistan and Iraq, which exposed servicemembers and veterans to toxic chemicals and fumes that have been linked to certain deadly diseases, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office told the Register.

The Burn Pits Accountability Act is Brown’s legislation. He’s been fighting for and advocating for veterans with deadly illnesses caused by burn pit exposure for several years and has also asked the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hold hearings on toxic exposure in Washington and allow veterans, their families and physicians testify about the illnesses. 

“We have a responsibility to ensure our veterans have the care they need to address the dangers they face while serving this country,” Brown said. “This legislation is a first step toward addressing the unique health needs of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Brown office provided these details about the Burn Pits Accountability Act:

• It will require the Department of Defense to evaluate servicemembers for toxic exposure during routine medical exams and directing the Department to share whether each servicemember was stationed near an open-air burn pit.

• Servicemembers exposed to toxic airborne chemicals or stationed near an open burn pit would be required to be enrolled in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry that will monitor and identify the harmful consequences of exposure to burn pits.

The legislation also would increase the requirements on the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to track and evaluate servicemembers’ health when they have been exposed to burn pits.

Activist and veterans advocate Susan Zeier, of Sandusky, welcomed the news about the Senate’s passage of the amendment. 

“It’s good news,” she said. “I think it shows the Senate is finally paying attention to burn pit issues. It shows our voices are starting to be heard.” 

Zeier has advocated for veterans on the issue for the last two years, traveling to Washington to lobby Congress and delivering petitions to urging the veterans committee members in the House and Senate to hold hearings and let veterans and their family members testify.

The Register sent Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson R-Georgia, and other ranking members of the committee an inquiry earlier this month asking if the committee would allow hearings during which veterans suffering from burn pit-related illnesses would be allowed to testify, and other questions why no such hearings had been scheduled.

Isakson, U.S. senators John Boozman, Bill Cassidy, Jerry Moran and Mike Rounds all did not respond to requests for comment.

Zeier said she will be at the Sandusky Art Walk from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 4 with pre-printed postcards addressed to local representatives urging support for burn pit veterans. A burn pits support booth will be on the sidewalk east of the Boy and the Boot, she said.

She agreed with Brown’s assessment that the legislation the Senate approved Tuesday was a “good first step.”

“It doesn’t go far enough, but it’s moving in the right direction.

Watch U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown on “Between the Lines.”

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