Former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, lawmakers and military veterans groups gathered in Washington, D.C. to announce legislation that would make it easier for veterans to get disability benefits for diseases linked to toxic fumes from garbage burn pits.
Tens of thousands of service members in recent conflicts overseas have been exposed to toxic fumes at burn pits used to get rid of trash at military bases.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who sponsored the bill, said the fumes can cause cancer and lung disease, but the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied disability claims linked to burn pit exposure. The bill would make it easier to get those claims approved.
“All that service members would have to submit to receive care is evidence of deployment to one of the 34 countries named in the bill or receipt of a service medal associated with the Global War on Terror or the Gulf War," she said.
Gillibrand compared the burn pit exposure of recent wars to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, and first responders at Ground Zero following the 9/11 terror attacks.
Stewart, who advocated for the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, said military members should not have to jump through hoops to get benefits.
“Each soldier that comes home is put on trial for their health care," Stewart said. "Because if the VA and the Pentagon can make it so that their health condition is not a part of their service, they don’t have to pay.”
“Good, ordinary people who do extraordinary things to keep us safe 24/7 are sick and dying,” said John Feal with FealGood Foundation. Feal advocated alongside Stewart to lobby lawmakers for more federal funding to help 9/11 first responders cover their health care last year.
The VA has said there’s not enough evidence to link long term health problems with burn pit exposure.