Veterans who claim to have fallen ill from the toxic smoke emanating from the burns of their military bases during the wars at Iraq and Afghanistan scored a small victory after the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would start taking claims on conditions suspected due to their service.
As of Monday, the VA began processing disability claims for respiratory problems like asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis on a presumptive basis. The handling of complaints is based on suspected exposure to particulate matter during military service sur the Southwest Asian theater of operations, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan. the initiative comes after being announced last May.
"Through this process, I determined that the evidence provided was sufficient to establish presumptions of service connection for these three conditions respiratory, "Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said in a released statement. "This is the right decision, and VA will continue to use a holistic approach to determine suspected toxic exposure in the future.
US Army soldiers watch garbage burn in fire pit February 4, 2013 at Forward Operating Base Azzizulah in Kandahar province in Afghanistan.
The ministry also announced that it will lead a sensicampaign to inform affected veterans of their eligibility.
The investigation unit at Fox News has reported extensively on fears that veterans have been made ill by the exposure smoke from combustion pits. Many soldiers said the pits were a crude method of incineration in which every piece of waste was burned, including plastics, batteries, appliances, medicine, etc. dead animals and even human waste.
Objects were often set on fire with jet fuel as an accelerator. The pits burned over 1,000 different chemical compounds day and night. Most of the soldiers breathed toxic fumes without protection. According to a registry created by the VA, more than 200,000 veterans said the exposure made them sick, but the department refused help to many of them.
Many anciFighters and their families said their experience of trying to get help with health care coverage left them feeling like they were being treated if they tried to scam to get money from the federal government.
"They make you feel, I don't mean you are doing anything wrong, but almost as if you are doing something suspicious or that you were sneaky or trying to take advantage of something that isn 't for you, "Gina Cancelino, whose husband Joseph served in Iraq in 2003 as a gunnery sergeant for the Marines, said Fox News said in April. He passed away in 2019 after being diagnosed with cancer just two years earlier. "My children have lost their father. He will never be able to do anything with them. He'll never see them do anything. They will never have him around again. And he was the provider of this family. YouI will tell myself that I am not entitled to something. You will give me the impression that I am trying to forget you. "
Burn pits, like this one at FOB Marez, were originally seen as a temporary measure to get rid of huge amounts of waste generated at the bases. The range of materials sent to the pits would have included plastics, batteries, ls, appliances, drugs, dead animals and even human waste. (Courtesy John Nelson)
Cancelino is part of the veterans advocacy group Burn Pits 360 who recently lobbied for the statpresumed condition ut for service members with the presumed benefits act for war fighters exposed to burn pits and other toxins - a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., With Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., Which would force the VA to provide health and disability services to World War veterans Counter Terrorism (GWOT) who have served in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and other places where they have been exposed to toxins.
The presumptive benefit was introduced in September of last year, but was reintroduced last March with updated criteria for presumptive care. The bill previously required service members to prove a minimum of 15 days of service.
To simplify eligibility, updated invoice now favors veterans with relevant service medals received after their tour of duty instead of documentation that they served a minimum number of days.
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Comedian and advocate Jon Stewart, who has spent much of the past two years helping advocacy groups like Burn Pits 360 and the Wounded Warrior Project lobby for the presumptive benefits bill, said the move is certainly a step in the right direction , it doesn 't help the dozens of veterans who say they have developed rare cancers as a result of their exposure during service.
"Any help is welcome, overdue and insufficiente "Stewart told Fox News.
Former VA secretary David Shulkin, who has also lobbied Capitol Hill, said the new initiative has been slow to arrive , but more needs to be done.
" For too long we have let veterans wait while we investigate issues with research studies that take years to complete, "Shulkin told Fox News. " Today, [the] VA signaled its willingness to start helping veterans who were waiting, although more data may be pending . This is a significant change in policy there. However, many other veterans who have been exposed to environmental toxins need help and suffer and we need to expand these policy changes so that the veteransfighters no longer have to wait for research to be carried out.
"I hope this will only be the first step in making our benefit policies responsive to our veterans.