Protecting our servicemembers and veterans from the dangers of burn pits

May 5, 2018

Dear Friends,

Exciting news for our veterans, servicemembers, and their families who are concerned about burn pits! Last week, we took a huge step forward by creating an official, bipartisan Congressional Burn Pits Caucus. I am proud to spearhead this effort with Republican Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee, Brad Wenstrup. This caucus is important because it will help us better mobilize other Members of Congress to finally get our veterans the answers they need and the care they deserve.

During the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, burn pits were used to dispose of waste, chemicals, and trash from American military bases. One burn pit in Balad, Iraq was more than 10 acres large and was fed more than 240 tons of waste per day. It released large clouds of black smoke that left runways, airfields, and tents covered in fine, green-black soot. Some troops called it the “Iraqi talcum powder,” “The Balad Cough,” or “The Iraqi Crud.”

We now know those clouds of smoke contained life-threatening carcinogens and particulate matter, inhaled by many of our troops. One of those servicemembers was Jennifer Kepner: a mother of two who settled in Cathedral City after serving for six years as an Air Force medic. Jennifer led an active and healthy lifestyle — but at only 39-years-old, despite no other risk factors, she died of pancreatic cancer. Her doctor said the cancer was most likely caused by her exposure to burn pits while she was stationed in Iraq.

Jennifer is the inspiration for this caucus – it was her final wish that none of her fellow veterans would have to wonder if their cancer was linked to their service. I am honored to help realize that goal by bringing together Republicans and Democrats alike to raise awareness, find solutions, and protect our servicemembers and veterans by ending the use of burn pits and connecting veterans with the health care services they need. Already, twenty-one members of Congress have joined the caucus, and we hope many more will follow.

Our troops put their lives on the line to defend our country. We can never repay their service — but we can work harder to support them when they return home.


Raul Ruiz, M.D.
Member of Congress