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Congressman Raul Ruiz

Representing the 36th District of California

Congressman Raul Ruiz Introduces Third Bill to Help Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits with Reps. Castro, Bilirakis

November 6, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) announced the introduction of the Veterans Right to Breathe Act (H.R. 4574), bipartisan legislation aimed at providing disability compensation for veterans exposed to burn pits while serving our country overseas. The bipartisan bill would help veterans exposed to burn pits by establishing presumption of service connected exposure to burn pits for nine pulmonary diseases including asthma, pneumonia, and chronic bronchiolitis. Dr. Ruiz introduced the legislation with Representatives Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL).

Burn pits were used to dispose of waste generated on American bases during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and included the burning of batteries, jet fuel, and other hazardous materials. By establishing presumption of service connection to burn pit exposure, the VA presumes that a veteran’s disease or illness was caused by burn pit exposure during their military service, widening their health coverage and care options while lowering their costs. 

“We must end the use of burn pits and ensure veterans who have been exposed to them get the care they have earned, deserve, and need,” said Dr. Raul Ruiz, an emergency physician and co-chairman of the bipartisan Burn Pits Caucus. “Many of our servicemembers survive the battlefield only to become delayed casualties of war at home, dying of lung diseases from burn pit exposure. They are resigned to the same fate as our Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, who waited up to thirty years to get the help they needed. Our veterans cannot wait. The Veterans Right to Breathe Act would ensure that our nation’s veterans who are suffering lung diseases due to the exposure to burn pits get the benefits and care they need and have earned.”

“Wounded Warrior Project thanks Congressman Ruiz for his leadership in advocating for service members whose health has been adversely impacted due to exposure to burn pits while deployed,” said Derek Fronabarger, Government Affairs Director, Wounded Warrior Project. “This important legislation will help improve veterans’ access to health care for the many serious respiratory illnesses they contracted during or following their deployments.  Wounded Warrior Project supports H.R. 4574 and looks forward to working with Congress to ensure its passage.”

“Burn pit exposure is a bipartisan issue that impacts thousands regardless of creed, color, or status,” said Congressman Castro (TX-20). “Too many veterans have endured significant medical issues, emotional strain, and financial pressures that accompany these conditions. That is why I have made burn pit exposure central to my veteran’s advocacy. This bill would ensure that burn pits do not become the Agent Orange of our generation, and that our veterans no longer have to fight for the presumption of benefits.”

“For years the VFW has been calling for the connection of research and presumptive illnesses surrounding open air burn pits,” Pat Murray, Deputy Director National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars. “The Veterans’ Right to Breath Act is a great step in making sure veterans affected by toxins from burn pits are finally provided the care and benefits they deserve. Identifying these nine conditions as a presumption of service connection will allow the men and women exposed to airborne toxins to hopefully begin their road to recovery.”

“Many of our heroes are sick and some are even dying from illnesses linked to their exposure to burn pit toxins,” said Congressman Bilirakis (FL-9). “There is an urgent need to remove the bureaucratic red tape that is keeping them from getting the care and benefits they deserve.”

 

Background

During the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, burn pits were used as a primary method to dispose of waste and garbage generated on American military bases. Because items were indiscriminately burned, the burn pits released an array of pollutants, including particulate matter and known carcinogens. Within months or years after returning from deployment, young servicemembers and veterans exposed to burn pits are suffering from pulmonary issues, insomnia, cancer, and rare illnesses.

Independent researchers and scientists, many of them former VA physicians, have conducted studies that found high diagnosis rates of pulmonary diseases on veterans exposed to burn pits.

The Veterans’ Right to Breathe Act would provide presumption of service connection to nine pulmonary diseases: asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, constrictive bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease, lung cancer, and pneumonia. As a result, veterans exposed to burn pits would qualify to receive compensation benefits and free health care for such diseases.

Dr. Raul Ruiz has introduced other pieces of legislation to ensure our veterans exposed to burn pits receive the health care they deserve. In August, Dr. Ruiz introduced H.R. 4137, the Jennifer Kepner HOPE Act, to provide veterans exposed to burn pits eligibility for VA health care and enrollment in Priority Group 6.

In March, Dr. Ruiz introduced H.R. 1381, the Burn Pit Registry Enhancement Act, which allows the VA Burn Pits Registry to be updated with the cause of death of deceased registered veterans.

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