For years, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have said the "burn pits" used to dispose of waste in war zones made them seriously ill. Now, some politicians say they are listening.
On Feb. 7, Sen. Tom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, introduced a bill calling for more research and resources for veterans exposed to burn pits.
“With an increasing number of our brave men and women returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan citing illnesses potentially caused by burn pits exposure, it’s clear that we can’t afford to wait,” said Klobuchar in a statement.
Other co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).
If passed, the "Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act" would create a "center of excellence" inside U.S. Veterans Affairs with resources to study the effect of burn pits and treat the tens of thousands of veterans who say they've been hurt by them.
Burn pits were a "common way" — still may be used in some cases — for the military to dispose of chemicals, paint, plastics, cans and other forms of waste near bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the VA. The agency's website says that most of the irritation to skin, eyes, and lungs, from burn pit smoke is temporary.
However, for years veterans have reported serious illnesses that may be linked to those pits, leading some to call it the new "Agent Orange."
Agent Orange was a chemical used during the Vietnam War that was ultimately linked to long-term health issues in veterans.
In 2014, the VA was criticized for delays in creating a burn pit registry, but now that it exists more than 60,000 veterans have joined. The VA says the registry is a "a tool to help participants become more aware of their health and to identify health conditions possibly related to exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards," and that the department will use deployment data from the Department of Defense to determine who is eligible.
Amie Muller served two deployments with the Minnesota National Guard, where she worked and lived next to burn pits at Balad Air Base in Iraq.
“It makes me really mad,” Muller told the Star Tribune in June last year. “I inhaled that stuff. It was all day, all night. Everything that they burned there, is illegal to burn in America. That tells you something.”