WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) announced that today President Obama signed their bill to establish a registry of service members and veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan into law.
“Today we celebrate the conclusion of our bipartisan effort to improve the health and well-being of our veterans,” Udall said, “This is a victory for our men and women in uniform across the globe, and I am proud to say it was made possible by the strong advocacy of Master Sergeant Jessey and Maria Baca of New Mexico,” Udall said. "Just as our veterans have answered the call of duty for our country, we have answered their call for better information and today brings us closer to insuring this special population receives the care and treatment they deserve.”
Udall and Corker's Burn Pits Registry Act was included as part of a larger veterans package, S. 3202, the “Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012,” which passed the Senate and House in late December 2012.
The bill will create a registry similar to the Agent Orange and Gulf War registries to help patients, doctors and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) determine to what extent air pollution caused by open air burn pits has led to medical diseases among service members.
In 2011, Udall and Corker introduced S, 1798, the Burn Pits Registry Act, with cosponsors Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.).
All five members of New Mexico's congressional delegation also supported the measure in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
Udall began work on this legislation after meeting MSgt Jessey Baca and his wife Maria of Albuquerque, who detailed Jessey's battle with cancer, chronic bronchiolitis, chemical induced asthma, brain lesions, TBI, PTSD and numerous other ailments believed to have been caused by exposure to burn pits in Iraq.
Earlier this year, Udall testified before a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the legislation and mentioned the work of the Bacas, who had traveled from New Mexico to attend the hearing. Video of the Senator Udall testifying before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee is available here and a photo of Udall with the Bacas here.
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. The U.S. Department of Defense and numerous contractors made frequent use of burn pits at a number of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Department of the Army, Department of the Air Force and the American Lung Association have confirmed the dangers posed by burn pits, and veterans and their families have reached out to Congress for action.
Creating a burn pits registry was supported by numerous groups, including Burn Pits 360, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Association of the U.S. Navy, Retired Enlisted Association, the Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees and the National Military Family Association.
Summary of the Open Burn Pits Registry:
Establish and maintain an open burn pit registry for those individuals who may have been exposed during their military service;
Include information in this registry that the Secretary of the VA determines applicable to possible health effects of this exposure;
Develop a public information campaign to inform individuals about the registry; and
Periodically notify members of the registry of significant developments associated with burn pit exposure.
Timeline of the Open Burn Pits Registry:
November 3, 2011: Udall, Corker & six co-sponsors introduce S. 1798, the Open Burn Pits Registry Act.
June 13, 2012: Udall testifies before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee in support of the Act.
September 12, 2012: The Act is included in a larger veterans package, S. 3340, the Mental Health Access to Continued Care and Enhancement of Support Services bill, which the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee passes unanimously.
December 19, 2012: The Act is included in an alternative veterans package, S. 3202, the “Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012, which passes the full Senate unanimously.
December 30, 2012: The U.S. House of Representatives passes S. 3202 unanimously.
January 10, 2013: President Obama signs S. 3202, which includes the Open Burn Pits Registry Act language.