WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - A recent move by the Department of Veterans Affairs means that some veterans exposed to toxic burn pits will finally be able to get disability benefits.
The VA has denied more than 75 percent of burn pit-related disability claims since 2007, which is another reason why passing legislation to fix this issue is so important.
The VA says three presumptive conditions related to exposure: Asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis.
According to a survey, 86 percent report exposure to burn pits or other toxins and 88 percent believe they may be or are already experiencing symptoms from burn pits or toxic exposure.
A registry shows who is eligible but doesn't have the numbers on the site. The total number of those eligible is about 3.5 million.
The move comes after years of lobbying by advocates pushing for more disability claims related to toxic exposure problems overseas and could affect nearly 3.5 million veterans that could be eligible.
Benefits will now be expanded for veterans who have served over the past 20 years in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and more from August 1990 to the present.
It will also affect those who served in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, or Djibouti during the Persian Gulf War from September 19, 2001 to now.
FOX 5 spoke to a military advocacy group and they say service members sign up to join the armed forces knowing the risks involved, but toxic exposure wasn’t one they weren’t aware of.
"You expect to get shot at, you can step on an IED, etc.," said Travis Horr, Director of Government Affairs for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "Those things come with being at war but your own government telling you to burn jet fuel, plastics, next to where you sleep 24 hours a day is not something you sign up for and get cancer for years down the road."
Horr says his organization believes these are self-inflicted wounds by the U.S. Government on their own troops and it’s something the VA needs to correct.
For now, the announcement is a minor victory, but it only applies to reports filed within ten years of separation from the military.
Horr says it will take an Act of Congress to have all veterans exposed to toxic burn pits given the healthcare they deserve, saying you can’t put a timeline on diseases that may come.
"If somebody gets cancer 11 years after their deployment are they really less deserving than someone who got it nine years after their deployment? In our eyes, no, and we will continue fighting until all veterans are covered under this healthcare," Horr said.
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Horr says IAVA is working with Congress to pass bills that would make it easier for veterans exposed to toxins to receive VA medical benefits, regardless of when they served--similar to bills that helped veterans who suffered from Agent Orange--or those who served in Vietnam.
The House’s ‘Honouring Our Pact Act’ and the Senate’s ‘Cost of War Act’ both passed out of committee earlier this summer.
IAVA tells FOX 5 they expect a floor vote by the end of the year.
If you have a pending claim for one or more of these conditions, the VA says you don’t need to do anything and it will be fast-tracked, but those payouts could take several days or weeks to start.
For individuals submitting new claims or resubmitting old claims, the wait could be much longer. To file a new claim you can visit va.gov.