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Hassan, Shaheen Join Colleagues in Introducing Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Service Members and Veterans, Examine Health Effects of Toxic Burn Pits

WASHINGTON – Senators Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen this week joined colleagues in reintroducing the bipartisan Burn Pits Accountability Act to examine the health effects of exposure to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals on service members and veterans. The legislation would require the Department of Defense to evaluate members of the Armed Forces for exposure to toxic airborne chemicals during periodic health assessments, upon a service member’s return from a deployment (Post-Deployment Health Assessment), and at separation (Separation History and Physical Examination). The bill also enhances information sharing between the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Veterans Affairs about service members’ based or stationed near an open burn pit or exposed to airborne toxins and provides members determined to have been exposed to toxic airborne chemicals or stationed near an open burn pit additional opportunities to enroll in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.

“It is vital that we better understand how these burn pits are putting our service members and veterans at risk of diseases like cancer, asthma, and emphysema, and determine the best path forward to treat those impacted,” Senator Hassan said. “This bipartisan bill would help ensure that our brave men and women who served - or are currently serving - in the armed forces receive the health care that they need and deserve.” 

“The brave men and women who have served our country deserve the highest quality care and support when they come home,” Senator Shaheen said. “Too many of our service members in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to toxic burn pits throughout their service, and this legislation will ensure that the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are equipped to serve them and understand the potential health implications related to their exposure. This is common-sense legislation that will help the Departments serve our veterans, and I’ll keep working across the aisle to move this bill through Congress.”

The burning of waste on military bases exposed many service members to a variety of potentially harmful substances. Plastic, aerosol cans, electronic equipment, human waste, tires, and batteries were thrown into open pits, often doused with jet fuel, and set on fire. As a result, many deployed soldiers were exposed to smoke from these open-air burn pits. Health effects from exposure to chemicals found in burn pits may include cancer, neurological effects, reproductive effects, respiratory toxicity, and cardiovascular toxicity. Troops who have worked in these areas are subject to higher rates of asthma, emphysema, and rare lung disorders.