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Marco Rubio: VA Needs to Do More to Help Veterans Impacted by Burn Pits

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced this week it will add “nine rare respiratory cancers to the list of presumed service-connected disabilities due to military environmental exposures to fine particulate matter” but U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., insisted it could do more.

“The following list of rare respiratory cancers will be added to VA’s regulations through an Interim Final Rule published in the Federal Register on April 26, 2022: squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx; squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea; adenocarcinoma of the trachea; salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea; adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung; large cell carcinoma of the lung; salivary gland-type tumors of the lung; sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung; typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung,” the VA announced. “VA determined through a focused review of scientific and medical evidence there is biological plausibility between airborne hazards and carcinogenesis of the respiratory tract — and the unique circumstances of these rare cancers warrant a presumption of service connection. The rarity and severity of these illnesses and the reality these conditions present, is a situation where it may not be possible to develop additional evidence, prompted VA to take this action.”

“Veterans who suffer from rare respiratory cancers associated with their service deserve the very best America has to offer—but they’ve had to wait for the care and benefits they deserve for far too long. That ends now,” said U.S. VA Sec. Denis McDonough. “With these new presumptives, Veterans who suffer from these rare respiratory cancers will finally get the world-class care and benefits they deserve, without having to prove causality between their service and their condition.”

“VA will begin processing disability compensation claims for veterans who served any amount of time in the Southwest Asia theater of operations beginning Aug. 2, 1990, to the present, or Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria or Djibouti beginning Sept. 19, 2001, to the present,” the VA announced. “Any veteran who has or had one of the listed cancers at any time during or after separation from military service may be eligible for disability compensation benefits. VA will contact impacted Veterans and survivors to inform them about their eligibility and will provide information on how to apply. Veterans, survivors or dependents who had claims previously denied for any of these respiratory cancers are encouraged to file a supplemental claim for benefits.”

Rubio insisted this action was “long overdue and woefully insufficient.”

“You don’t need to be a scientist to know that living next to toxic, open-air burn pits is bad for your health — it’s common sense,” Rubio said. “The VA’s decision is long overdue, but countless veterans will remain without the care they deserve. Our nation’s veterans are suffering from debilitating illnesses and dying because they cannot get the care they earned. No more half measures. No more bureaucratic studies. No more excuses. The Senate needs to pass legislation with comprehensive presumptive benefits for our veterans, now.”

Rubio pointed to his bill to “provide presumptive U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to service members who have deployed and have illnesses due to exposure to burn pits and other toxins.”

Back in March 2021, Rubio teamed up with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., and U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., to bring back the “Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act” which would “streamline the process for obtaining VA benefits for burn pit and other toxic exposures” while expanding the number of health problems the federal government associated with burn pits.

Other supporters include former U.S. VA Sec. David Shulkin, entertainer Jon Stewart and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla. A host of groups–including Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The American Legion, Burn Pits 360, Vote Vets, Military Veterans Advocacy, Stronghold Freedom Foundation, Dixon Center, Veterans for Common Sense, Sergeant Sullivan Circle, National Veterans Legal Services Program, Warriors Project, Grunt Style and the Feal Good Foundation–are behind the proposal.

“Our war fighters had a job to do, and they did it honorably and without hesitation,” Rubio said when the bill was introduced. “We will never be able to repay them and their families for their sacrifice, but we can — and we must — take care of them now. This historic and long overdue legislation will cut through the red tape to ensure veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins while defending our nation will receive the care they need and deserve. No more excuses. No more delays. It is time to act.”

“More than three million service members could have been exposed to toxic burn pits, yet the VA continues to deny them care by placing the burden of proof on veterans suffering from rare cancers, lung diseases, and respiratory illnesses,” Gillibrand said. “Congress cannot sit by as the VA ignores its duty. The bottom line is that our veterans served our country, they are sick and they need health care—period. The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act will finally establish a presumptive service connection for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins and streamline the process for obtaining vital VA benefits. I am proud to cosponsor this bipartisan legislation with Senator Rubio, and I thank Congressman Ruiz for his leadership in the House. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this bill and to apply common sense and common decency to a broken process.”

Gillibrand’s and Rubio’s bill has been before the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for more than a year.


  • Kevin Derby

    Originally from Jacksonville, Kevin Derby is a contributing writer for Florida Daily and covers politics across Florida.

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