Lawmakers push for more coverage of veterans with burn pit exposures

[anvplayer video=”5101869″ station=”998131″]

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — There’s a push to further help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while serving overseas. Right now, some federal lawmakers say these men and women are running into too many challenges when trying to get their care covered by the VA and they believe the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act (PACT Act) will help cut through some of that red tape.

Burn pits are what the government used to get rid of trash at overseas bases during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anything and everything was thrown into the pits and lit on fire from equipment to medical waste, even vehicles.

“It would be plastics, metals, sometimes uniforms,” explains Kevin Kozlowski a local veteran of the Iraq war.

It was Kozlowski’s job as a member of the Army’s 82nd Airborne division to burn.

“My CO would say, ‘Hey Koz, can you go burn this stuff for me’—I gotta follow orders, I was a young Private First Class,” he recalled, “I’d stand there for hours, 4, 6, 8 hours and I would just burn things all day.”

All the while, inhaling toxins that were being released, even at night, he slept just feet away from a burn pit.

Kozlowski didn’t think much of the exposure until he started having trouble breathing a few years after he came home.

“I’d wake up in the middle of the night, and I can’t breathe or during the day, walking up and down the stairs I couldn’t breathe,” he told News10NBC.

He has since been diagnosed with asthma and COPD. Kozlowski is one of hundreds of thousands of service members who’ve been told by their doctors that their exposure to burn pits is likely to blame for their respiratory issues or cancer diagnosis.

The problem is that currently, the VA doesn’t recognize many of those illnesses as service-connected, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says it’s time for that to change.

“If you have these illnesses and you were exposed to burn pits which the vast majority of our vets in Iraq and Afghanistan were, you get the health care you don’t have to go through all the BS,” he said at a press conference at the VOC in Rochester on Monday.

The PACT Act would establish a service connection for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers related to burn pit exposures it would also commission studies related to incidents of cancer among veterans and the health trends of post-9/11 veterans. It also requires the VA to provide standardized training to improve toxic exposure disability claims adjudications.

“This had a rough time coming to the floor when I wasn’t [Majority Leader]… people opposed it one, on the bean-counting, on the money aspect and the second is it’s just over overdue people are dying,” Schumer said.

The PACT Act has passed in the House of Representatives.