Slotkin, Meijer Introduce Bill to Address Veteran Burn Pit Exposure

April 8, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), the newest member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Peter Meijer (MI-03), a U.S. Army Reserve veteran who served in Iraq, are introducing the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act, a bill to help address the specific needs of veterans exposed to open-air toxic burn pits while serving in the Armed Forces. 

Right now, many veterans are unable to access health care and benefits provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) because they cannot prove their ailment was caused by toxic exposure. This bill would formally recognize that veterans who served near open-air burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places were exposed to airborne hazards and toxins, and takes the burden of proof off the veteran, requiring the VA to perform a medical examination to determine if exposure is linked to a veteran’s particular ailment. 

“Too many veterans in Michigan and across the country need specialized care due to toxic exposure, and too many of them are having to fight the VA at the same moment they are fighting for their lives,” said Slotkin. “As someone who lived close to a burn pit in each of my three tours in Iraq, I know this is an important first step in cutting through red tape and getting veterans care for the conditions caused by toxic exposure. I’m also proud to be co-sponsoring H.R. 2368, the Conceding Our Veterans’ Exposures Now and Necessitating Training Act of 2021 and H.R. 2372, the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2021. The delay in care for veterans exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam was a tragic failure, and one we can’t repeat with things like burn pits and PFAS exposure. As I raised with Secretary McDonough on March 25th, we need landmark legislation on toxic exposure and I’m eager to work with my Republican and Democratic colleagues to get this bill on the president’s desk.” 

“We have an urgent moral obligation to take care of the men and women who have served and sacrificed to defend our nation,” said Meijer. “There are veterans across the country who are struggling with serious health conditions resulting from their exposure to burn pits during their service, yet bureaucratic obstacles have prevented them from receiving the care they need and deserve. Waiting even one day for treatment of this toxic exposure is too long, and our veterans deserve better. This bill offers a critical first step to ensure service members exposed to toxic hazards receive the care they have earned, and I am proud to join my colleague Rep. Slotkin in these efforts.”

The Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act of 2021 would: 

  • Eliminate the unreasonable burden on veterans to prove they were exposed to burn pits while serving on an installation where those practices were in use. 
  • Formally recognize and concede that veterans who served near burn pits were exposed to airborne hazards, toxins and particulate matters, potentially aiding thousands of veterans who otherwise do not have documentation of their exposure. 
  • Require the VA to conduct a full medical examination on veterans to determine a potential connection between an ailment and past toxic exposure. 
  • Work in acknowledgment of ongoing research being conducted by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The bill has the support of several veteran advocacy groups including Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA) and the Wounded Warrior Project.

“Our nation has a solemn duty to care for those suffering long-term, negative health effects from toxic exposure to open air burn pits during their military service,”said DAV National Commander Stephen Whitehead. “DAV supports the Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition Act and applauds Representative Slotkin for her leadership in this effort that will help eliminate red tape and assist affected veterans seeking benefits for disabilities related to burn pits.”

In February, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced S.437, the Senate companion bill, which already has bipartisan support on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.