Trump Signs Bill to Address Military Burn Pits

December 26, 2019 Updated: December 27, 2019
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California Congressman Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) affirmed President Trump’s signature of two key pieces of legislation under the National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the Department of Defense to document where burn pits were used and submit a plan on how it will phase them out.

Congress passed the $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Dec. 12, which included two key provisions to eliminate existing burn pits and requires the mapping of where troops were exposed to the burn pit toxic fumes. Ruiz hopes this will ultimately lead to better health care for veterans who served in those areas.

In a Dec. 23 newsletter, Congressman Ruiz wrote, “Great news! The President signed into law my two pieces of legislation to help end the military’s use of toxic burn pits and get exposed veterans the care they need. This was included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.”

The legislation, introduced by Ruiz, is a step forward for veterans to be able to claim disabilities after contracting illnesses caused by inhaling toxins from burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Egypt.

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A soldier in the Afghan National Army (ANA) walks past a burn pit at a command outpost in Kandahar Province, Zhari District, Afghanistan, on March 22, 2013. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The Congressman said that though this legislation will require the Defense Department to end the use of burn pits, it is only a first step to getting veterans the care they need after being exposed to burn pit emissions.

“Despite the progress we made this week, our fight isn’t over. I will continue working tirelessly to get veterans exposed to burn pits the health care and benefits they have earned and deserve,” said Ruiz.

“This legislation is important because it helps VA providers and veterans identify the risks of cancer and autoimmune and pulmonary diseases. This will ultimately save lives and help our veterans get the care they need.”

Ruiz explains how it has been difficult for veterans and their families to get the full care they need after being exposed to toxins from burn pit emissions.

“Since 2017, the story of my constituent and friend, Jennifer Kepner, an Air Force veteran who suffered from pancreatic cancer likely from her burn pit exposure, has inspired my fight to end the use of burn pits once and for all. When I sat down with Jennifer at her kitchen table and heard about her battle with cancer, I knew that we had to act for all veterans and servicemembers exposed to toxic military burn pits.”

“The Burn Pits”

The book “The Burn Pits” places part of the blame of the neglect of veterans on a Department of Defense that provided zero oversight of its base contractors in charge of disposing waste during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In disposing of their contract specifications, with respect to basic care and adhering to safety procedures instead, Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) and Halliburton dumped all of the human waste, refuse, degraded equipment and much more in large scale, open air pits, where the debris piles burned continuously around the clock.

Beyond the soldiers, KBR dumped gear, spent ammunition, computers, furniture, medical waste, radioactive material, supplies, plastics, metals, and clothing. The enormity of the operation comes into focus when the toxic stew poisoned tens of thousands of troops, and many villagers in Iraq and Afghanistan, too.

Hundreds of “Ground Zero” pits scarred the landscape throughout war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. The pits burned on month after month, spewing toxic smoke and plumes seeded with particulate of heavy metals, radioactive isotopes, human flesh, and tissue. They burned not out in some far off field or behind a tall mountain range, but in and around the camps and bases, which were often located near cities and densely populated areas.

James Grundvig contributed to this report