The U.S. Senate has voted 84-14 to expand health services for millions of soldiers who were exposed to toxic fumes from burn pits at military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Lawmakers passed the Honoring Our PACT Act, which expands eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical care, including mental health services and counseling, to around 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to burn pits since 9/11.
Before the PACT Act, there were only three presumptive health problems linked to burn pits — asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis. The legislation would add 23 illnesses to the list of injuries, including lung diseases and several types of cancer.
Burn pits were a crude method of incinerating huge amounts of trash generated by military bases, including chemicals, plastics, batteries, metals, dead animals, human waste, and more.
Over two decades, these open-air burn pits spewed a massive amount of toxic fumes into the air. For the people living and working near the pits, it was impossible to avoid breathing the polluted air.
Not surprisingly, thousands of veterans returned to the U.S. with a wide range of serious health problems, including brain damage, breathing problems, and deadly cancers.
Unfortunately, the U.S. government was reluctant to provide health services, and even the U.S. Supreme Court shot down lawsuits against the burn pit contractor KBR Inc. (formerly Halliburton). Like the Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, veterans who were harmed by burn pits had to wage a long legal and lobbying war.
The Honoring Our PACT Act is named in honor of Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson, a veteran who died in 2020 after developing a rare form of lung cancer.
The bill now goes to the desk of President Joe Biden to sign. Biden’s oldest son Beau Biden was a veteran who died in 2015 of brain cancer after being exposed to burn pits in Iraq, including Camp Victory in Baghdad and Balad Air Force Base.