US Senate passes legislation increasing health benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits

There was a major victory for veterans on Thursday when the United States Senate passed legislation that would increase health benefits for them, especially veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits when they served.

News 12 Staff

Jun 17, 2022, 2:26 AM

Updated 738 days ago

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There was a major victory for veterans on Thursday when the United States Senate passed legislation that would increase health benefits for them, especially veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits when they served.
Some veterans say that this legislation has been a long time coming and they hope that it will put to rest ongoing disputes with the Office of Veteran's Affairs about illnesses they've suffered years after their deployment.
“I remember the first few days when that happened, you were blowing your nose and it was like black soot coming out,” says Marine veteran Maria Salazar.
Salazar describes what it was like days after breathing the air from a burn pit that was often set up very close to the soldiers’ living quarters.
“You were constantly breathing that in, and we didn't have any protection. The only thing we really had were the gaiter necks and you can still smell that,” Salazar says.
Salazar proudly served in the United States Marine Corps from 2002 to 2011. Salazar was deployed in 2003 to Iraq. She says that's where she was exposed to the toxic burn pits - a method the Armed Forces uses to dispose of waste, hazardous materials and chemicals.
“The majority of us have come back with respiratory issues. I myself came back from Iraq and I had a six-month infection that they couldn't clear up. My lungs got really scarred. I have asthma now, I have to take medications and steroids for the rest of my life,” she says.
In an 84-14 vote, the Senate passed legislation that would increase health benefits for veterans. The bill is an amended version of the Honoring Our PACT Act - which stands for Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics. It passed in the House earlier this year.
“We're fighting diseases that are popping up 10-15 years after we've been deployed. It's very frustrating that the VA doesn't want to correlate that our illnesses were because of the burn pits,” Salazar says.
The bill promises to bring much-needed relief to up to 3.5 million veterans who are still dealing with the effects of breathing toxins from burn pits. The bill would expand health care resources for veterans, including no longer having to prove that their conditions were a result of burn pit exposure. Twenty-three conditions related to burn pits have been added to the Veteran's Affairs list of illness. Salazar says this is great news, but she wants to see it in action.
“I always say actions speak louder than words. OK, you signed this bill, great. Now really put it to work and help the veterans that are suffering with this,” she says.
The House is expected to vote on the legislation next week. The bill includes Sen. Bob Menendez’s Improving Benefits for Gulf War Veterans Act. It expands benefits for veterans who served in the Gulf War and other wars in that region.


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