Many veterans exposed to toxic burn pits are not getting VA benefits. Luria wants Congress to fix that. - Elaine for Congress

Many veterans exposed to toxic burn pits are not getting VA benefits. Luria wants Congress to fix that.

Many veterans who served in the Middle East, Africa and the Philippines have had difficulty getting VA benefits for conditions caused by their exposure to toxic substances, and Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk, wants Congress to fix that.

Luria introduced legislation this week to secure Veterans Administration disability and health care benefits for those vets.

It is the first legislation on toxic exposure benefits to include a comprehensive list of overseas locations that would qualify a veteran for benefits. It is also the first that sets out a comprehensive list of presumptive illnesses contracted as a result of airborne exposure to toxic substances.

More than 13,900 veterans have filed for disability benefits for conditions tied to the burn pits — open-air trash fires — common at military bases and outposts in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Middle East nations. The VA has granted fewer than 4,000 claims.

More than 230,000 veterans have joined VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, reporting illnesses and health problems they believe were linked to their service.

“The burden of proof shouldn’t be on our veterans to get the benefits they deserve, and there’s no reason that they and their survivors should have to fight VA for the care and benefits they earned,” Luria said.

Her bill would speed up the process of securing benefits by conceding that veterans who served in those locations had been exposed to hazardous substances. It also streamlines the process by ending arguments over whether one of the illnesses on the bill’s list was or was not caused by exposure at those locations.

The bill also requires compensation and pension examinations and medical opinions for illnesses not on its list but that a veteran believes was caused by exposure.

Under the bill, qualifying veterans would be granted Priority Group 6 Veterans Health Administration health care.

The bill would cover veterans who served on or after Aug. 2, 1990, on a duty station in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia or the United Arab Emirates. It also will cover veterans who served on or after Sept. 11, 2001, at duty stations in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Uzbekistan, the Philippines or any other country determined relevant by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The bill lists more than 15 illnesses presumed to be caused by exposure to toxic substances at those posts, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis and several different types of cancers.

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