- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
- The house Passed March 5th, 2019Roll Call Vote 416 Yea / 0 Nay
HealthCommittee on Veterans' AffairsIntroducedFebruary 26th, 2019
- house Committees
What is House Bill H.R. 1381?
Cost of House Bill H.R. 1381
In-Depth: Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Burn Pits Caucus, reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to improve the burn pits registry to allow entries to be updated with the cause of death after a registered veteran passes allow, thereby expanding and improving the data available for studies related to burn pits and helping researchers determine the full range of diseases and negative health outcomes that can result from exposure to burn pits:
“For too long, our government has turned a blind eye to veterans like Jennifer Kepner, whose entry in the burn pits registry still does not reflect her cause of death: pancreatic cancer her doctor said was most probably a result of her exposure to burn pits,. Veterans like Jennifer [Kepner, a veteran in Rep. Ruiz’s home district] deserve to know how their burn pit exposure may affect their health, and one of our best tools for making that determination is the burn pit registry. With a companion bill in the Senate, we are closer than ever to honoring Jennifer’s memory by passing legislation to strengthen the registry and save the lives of other exposed veterans. I will never stop fighting until every servicemember and veteran exposed to burn pits can access the health care they need and has the benefits they have earned and deserve.”
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), an original cosponsor of this bill, adds:
“As an Iraq war veteran and a doctor, I understand the impacts of war are far-reaching. They go beyond battle injuries and can arise later in life to the detriment of the veteran and his or her family. In order for the VA to understand how exposure to burn pits impacted servicemembers, they must maintain an accurate and complete registry. This legislation will ensure appropriate records are kept so we can determine the best course of action to assist those with service related illnesses.”
Carlos Fuentes, VFW National Legislative Service Director, argues that allowing a cause of death to be entered into the burn pit registry is “common sense” that’s needed to help the VA understand the scope of burn pits’ impact:
“Allowing a cause of death to be entered into the database is not only common sense but will help VA understand the scope and severity of the problem and hopefully provide answers on how to protect our service members as they continue to faithfully answer the call of duty in times of crisis.”
This bill has one House cosponsor, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH). There’s also a Senate version, introduced by Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK). Last Congress, Rep. Ruiz introduced this bill in the House with four bipartisan cosponsors, including two Democrats and two Republicans, but it didn’t receive a committee vote. It also has the support of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and VFW.
Of Note: As early as 2002, U.S. military installations in Afghanistan and Iraq began to rely on open-air burn pits to dispose of waste materials. Burn pits are huge, open-air or shallow pits filled with all a military base’s trash, including electronics, weapons, munitions, biological waste from combat and medical care, plastics, human waste, and rubber tires — and jet fuel is often used as their accelerant. In recent years, they’ve come under scrutiny for their deleterious effects on both human health and the environment. In 2016, the Dept. of Defense (DOD) estimated that 30-40 tons of solid waste were burned in burn pits at large basis on a daily basis. Defense officials have estimated that there have been 63 burn pits in Iraq and 197 in Afghanistan.
The Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Registry — first established by the 2013 Burn Pits Registry Act, authored by Sen. Udall and then-Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) — helps veterans, doctors, and the VA monitor veterans’ health, keep them informed about studies and treatments, and improve programs to help veterans who are concerned that they may have been exposed to toxic chemicals while deployed.
The Burn Pits Registry allows eligible veterans and servicemembers to document their exposures and report health concerns through an online questionnaire. Eligible veterans and servicemembers include those who served in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn; Djibouti, Africa on or after September 11, 2001; Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm; or the Southwest Asia theater of operations on or after August 2, 1990.
In total, 165,877 veterans and servicemembers have completed and submitted the registry questionnaire between April 25, 2014 and January 7, 2019 (the most up-to-date data). However, advocates believe that the real number of veterans and servicemembers affected by burn pits is much higher than the number currently on the registry, as nearly every individual who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s had some exposure to burn pits.
This bill was created in honor of veteran Staff Sgt. Jennifer Kepner, one of Rep. Ruiz’s constituents who passed away due to cancer connected to her exposure to burn pits in Iraq. Kepner served in the Air Force in Iraq, where jet fuel-fueled burn pits were used to dispose of all waste on base, including Styrofoam and other carcinogens. She and her oncologist blamed her pancreatic cancer — which ultimately killed her after over a year-long battle — on burn pits. After Sgt. Staff Kepner’s death, Rep. Ruiz said:
“While Jennifer fought for her life against cancer, she also had to fight tooth and nail to get the health care she needed and had earned from the VA. That is simply wrong and something no veteran should have to experience. This bill honors Jennifer’s experience by making sure that the burn pit registry properly accounts for her passing and cause of death, improving data and research on burn pit exposure. Burn pits robbed our community of one of the bravest and most compassionate souls I have ever met. Jennifer’s empathy for her fellow veterans is why I won’t stop fighting until every servicemember and veteran exposed to burn pits can access the health care they need and has the benefits they have earned and deserve.”
Over the past 30 years, over 140,000 servicemembers and veterans have reported exposure to burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals. This can lead to serious, potentially life-threatening health effects, including neurological disorders, rare cancers, lung diseases, and more — which has led some to call this the “Agent Orange” of the post-9/11 generation.
A June 2015 VA report found that 25 percent of soldiers who were exposed to burn pits as part of their work reported diagnoses of one or more serious respiratory problems, compared to 17 percent of soldiers not directly exposed to burn pits. Additionally, 37 percent of those who worked with burn pits reported high blood pressure, compared to 28 percent in general service.
- Sponsoring Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) Press Release
- Senate Sponsor Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) Press Release
- Uken Report
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: Special IG for Afghanistan via Flickr / Creative Commons)