June 03, 2020

Duckworth, Klobuchar, Rounds, Sullivan Introduce Legislation to Help Servicemembers and Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Receive Proper Care during Coronavirus Pandemic


[WASHINGTON, DC] – Combat Veteran and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth joined Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) in introducing legislation to ensure that servicemembers and veterans with previous exposure to burn pits receive the care they need during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pandemic Care for Burn Pits Exposure Act would require the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ask servicemembers and veterans who have tested positive for a virus designated by the federal government as a pandemic, including COVID-19, if they were previously exposed to burn pits, so they can properly address their medical needs and ensure they receive proper care.

“After bravely serving our nation, too many Veterans come home with respiratory and neurological illnesses due to burn pit exposure and right now, that is making them more vulnerable to the worst cases of coronavirus,” said Duckworth. “As our nation continues to respond to this public health crisis, it’s our duty to make sure Veterans can get the care they need when they return home with health conditions that put them at heightened risk. I’m proud to join Senator Klobuchar in helping to introduce this bipartisan legislation to do that.”

“Many of our servicemembers and veterans are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic, especially those who were stationed near burn pits,” Klobuchar said. “As a result of being exposed to toxic substances from burn pits during their military service, many suffer from significant respiratory illnesses, and now they may face heightened health risks during the pandemic due to previous toxic exposure. This legislation would help to ensure that they receive the care they need.”

“Servicemembers and veterans who have been exposed to open burn pits during the course of their duty to our nation are more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses. These illnesses, such as asthma, may put individuals at a higher risk of experiencing dangerous symptoms if they contract a virus like COVID-19. Our legislation will require the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to assure that this risk is identified and integrated into patient care plans. It will also enable research on how COVID-19 affects individuals exposed to burn pits so that the government can develop better protection and treatment strategies for those who have answered the nation’s call,” said Rounds.

“Exposure to burn pits during one’s military service can often lead to respiratory illnesses, making many veterans even more vulnerable to the respiratory consequences of COVID-19,” Sullivan said. “We need to be clear-eyed about these two serious health challenges and the unique risks facing many of our military service members. I thank Senators Klobuchar, Rounds and Duckworth for joining me on this legislation to gather vital insights about each veteran’s exposure to airborne toxins as they seek testing and treatment related to the pandemic.”

This bill would require DOD and VA to ask servicemembers and veterans – who have tested positive for a virus that is designated as a pandemic by the federal government, including COVID-19 – if they were exposed to burn pits. Servicemembers and veterans exposed to toxic airborne chemicals or stationed near an open burn pit will also be enrolled in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, unless they choose to opt out. 

The bill also directs the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence to conduct a study of the health impacts on servicemembers and veterans who test positive for a virus that is designated as a global pandemic – including those who test positive for COVID-19 – and were exposed to burn pits and toxic substances. 

The legislation is endorsed by the Toxic Exposures in the American Military (TEAM) coalition, which is comprised of 30 organizations, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA) and Wounded Warrior Project.

"This new legislation builds on recent successes we have had partnering with Sen. Klobuchar in addressing the impacts of burn pits and other toxic exposures on servicemembers and veterans," said Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Jeremy Butler. "We applaud her leadership on this issue and that she appreciates the need to understand the impacts of pandemics on those who have suffered toxic exposures."

“We greatly appreciate Senators Klobuchar, Rounds, Duckworth, and Sullivan, in their tireless advocacy in protecting Service members and Veterans affected by burn pits and other toxic exposures,” said Derek Fronabarger, a spokesperson for the Toxic Exposures in the American Military (TEAM) Coalition. “Collecting additional data and informing the treating medical professional of historical lung exposures is a critical step in understanding the risk factor of a patient affected by COVID-19. We support this legislation and look forward to seeing it pass.”