Dr. Ruiz’s Burn Pits Legislation Passes House
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the U.S. House passed Rep. Ruiz’s bipartisan legislation calling on the Department of Defense to produce an implementation plan to end the use of active burn pits and provide a comprehensive list of all locations where military burn pits have been used by the military. Passing as part of the bipartisan, $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the two burn pits provisions represent a milestone in the effort to end the use of military burn pits once and for all. The bipartisan, bicameral NDAA now heads to President Trump’s desk for his signature.
“Tonight, we took an important step toward ending the military’s use of toxic burn pits and helping burn pit exposed veterans get the care and benefits they need,” said Dr. Raul Ruiz, an emergency physician and co-chairman of the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Burn Pits Caucus. “I am pleased that two more pieces of my legislation that were included in the NDAA passed the House and will become law. They will require DOD to create an implementation plan to phase out the use of burn pits and provide the VA and Congress with a detailed list of locations where they used burn pits. Having the list of toxic burn pit locations will help VA providers and veterans identify who is at risk for cancers and autoimmune and pulmonary diseases in order to provide treatment quickly and save lives. I urge the President to sign them into law in the coming days!”
Congressman Ruiz took to the House floor this week to discuss the need for this bill to become law.You can watch the video here.
“For years, the VFW has been advocating for the end of burn pits,” said Carlos Fuentes, the Director of National Legislative Service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Too many veterans have suffered from diseases and illnesses related to their burn pit exposure during their deployments. That is why I support Congressman Ruiz’s efforts to end the use of burn pits and am proud to see his legislation pass the House today.”
“The Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Coalition is encouraged to see these provisions in the NDAA and hope that this data will assist veterans in receiving medical assistance for any toxic exposure related illnesses,” said Derek Fronabarger, Government Affairs Director of the Wounded Warrior Project.
“Requiring DOD to submit a plan to end active burn pits is necessary to stop exposure from burn pits,” said Rosie Torres, Executive Director of Burn Pits 360. “We know these chemicals are bad and that these chemicals cause cancer, period. VA and DOD still do not have adequate resources allocated to the research and practice of environmental and occupational medicine for military exposures and occupational injuries. The result is that many veterans and service members with environmental injuries associated with deployments are left without care and/or are misdiagnosed with somatoform or conversion disorder for ‘unexplained symptoms.’ A list of all burn pit locations will hopefully one day lead to declassify all air samplings from these locations. Burn Pits 360 is honored to work alongside Congressman Ruiz, Champion of this generation’s Agent Orange.”
The National Defense Authorization Act included the following measures:
- A 3.1% pay raise for all service members;
- 12 weeks of paid leave for all federal employees for the birth or adoption of a child;
- Expanded protections and resources for military victims of sexual assault including legal assistance and counseling support;
- Striking the so-called “Widow’s tax” which reduced benefits to surviving spouses;
- Increased housing allowance;
- No authorization for military construction of a border wall.
Burn Pits 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.
Dr. Raul Ruiz has introduced many pieces of legislation to ensure our veterans exposed to burn pits receive the health care they deserve. 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.
In August, Dr. Ruiz introduced H.R. 4137, the Jennifer Kepner HOPE Act, to provide veterans exposed to burn pits eligibility for affordable VA health care.
This fall, Dr. Ruiz introduced H.R. 4574, the Veterans Right to Breathe Act, which 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.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 provides $738 billion for defense spending and military priorities. Dr. Ruiz’s provisions were included in Sec. 333 and Sec. 334 of the agreement and call for the Department of Defense to produce a plan to phase out the use of burn pits and for information relating to locations of burn pit use.
SEC. 333. PLAN TO PHASE OUT USE OF BURN PITS. Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees a plan to phase out the use of the burn pits identified in the Department of Defense Open Burn Pit Report to Congress dated April 13 2019.
SEC. 334. INFORMATION RELATING TO LOCATIONS OF BURN PIT USE. The Secretary of Defense shall provide to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and to Congress a list of all locations where open-air burn pits have been used by the Secretary of Defense, for the purposes of augmenting the research, healthcare delivery, disability compensation, and other activities of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.