Congressman Tim Bishop (D-NY) announced he is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill to treat veterans coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq who have been exposed to open-air burn pits and other air hazards. The bill will allot $150 million over five years to start centers in locations to be determined for veterans to receive medical treatment.
The “Helping Veterans Exposed to Toxic Chemicals Act” (H.R. 2510) will establish three Centers of Excellence to operate similarly to the Defense Centers of Excellence for Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD. The bill will cost $30 million a year, totaling to $150 million. The money will come from appropriations from The Departments of Defense and Veteran Affairs. When a veteran’s illness is determined as a result of service, The Department of Veteran Affairs will usually cover the cost. However, each case is individual.
Bishop is co-sponsoring the bill with Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO.) Original cosponsors of the legislation also include Congressmen Walter Jones (R-NC) and Jim Cooper (D-TN).
“Establishing Centers of Excellence to develop innovative treatments of the illnesses caused by toxic exposure and prevent them from occurring in the future is a vital effort on behalf of our brave service members and their families,” Bishop said in a press release. “I appreciate the support for this legislation on both sides of the aisle and among the dedicated groups who stand up on behalf of our veterans.”
When asked if one Republican co-sponsor was enough to push the bill through a Republican-majority House, Oliver Longwell, a spokesman for the Congressman, noted that veteran health tends to be a bipartisan issue. Bishop hopes that members of the Republican caucus will be willing to cross the aisle.
Bishop first started working to help veterans who were exposed to open-air burn pits and other air hazards when an army nurse whose father served on the Congressman’s Veterans Advisory Board approached him about what she thought was a link between exposure to open-air burn pits and an elevation in respiratory illnesses. The fires that soldiers overseas had been exposed to had been set to incinerate medical waste, munitions and tires.
Right now, there is no particular course of treatment for patients with illnesses related to open-air pits and airborne hazards. The Centers of Excellence will be specialized areas designated to collect information on each patient and all different types of treatment before determining how to proceed, according to Longwell.
“Veterans of previous generations struggled for years to have conditions such as Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome recognized as service-connected,” said IAVA Chief Policy Officer Tom Tarantino in a press release. “We cannot repeat this same pattern with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.”
For more information on Congressman Tim Bishop visit www.timbishop.house.gov.