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Don’t let burn pits become another Agent Orange

The military used open burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan for years to get rid of all sorts of waste amid warfare.

They openly burned everything from chemicals, paint, plastics, rubber and wood to discarded food, medical and human waste, metal and aluminum cans, munitions and other unexploded ordnance, petroleum and lubricant products.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) maintains that research shows no evidence of long-term health problems from burn pit exposure to our military servicemen and servicewomen.

Try telling that to a veteran who has returned from military duty that involved being exposed to burn pits and now is suffering a respiratory illness or even cancer.

Try telling that to an ailing veteran who believes that his illness stems from such exposure.

That soldier may not have died on the battlefield, but his death may be hastened nonetheless by service to his country.

And this soldier – a very modest and well-respected family man from the area who is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and whose letter to the editor you probably read in this newspaper on Jan. 25 – can’t even get the VA assistance in dealing with a life-threatening illness related to his service.

That’s because a VA claim for benefits requires the veteran to show evidence of exposure.

Military orders often are not so specific as to place a service member in proximity to a burn pit out of concern for national security.

Failure to provide evidence means the claim often is denied.

The situation is reminiscent of the struggles of Vietnam veterans afflicted from exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide linked to cancer and the federal government’s appalling reluctance to assist afflicted veterans.

Senate Bill 2950, the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act, attempts to correct the situation.

It would amend U.S. code to concede exposure to airborne hazards and toxins from burn pits may have been hazardous to a service member’s health.

If it is determined that a military member was deployed to a covered location during a certain period, it provides a mechanism to concede that the member was exposed to certain toxins, chemicals and hazards.

We believe this to be an important bill and encourage Pennsylvania U.S. Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. and Pat Toomey, plus U.S. Reps. Fred Keller and Glenn Thompson, to support it.

The legislation cannot work its way through both houses of Congress and get to the president’s desk soon enough.

Many of our military veterans deployed to the Middle East and who were exposed to the burn pits are suffering.

Whatever happens, we do not want to see this become another Agent Orange.

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