Episode 1 The

Burn pits were standard military practice during the wars we waged in the Middle East and now tens of thousands of our veterans say they’re suffering from respiratory diseases, cancers, and other illnesses caused by exposure to the toxic black smoke they create. That’s awful enough, but the Department of Veterans Affairs also routinely refuses to acknowledge that these illnesses are connected to veterans’ service and denies them benefits.

Scroll down to explore why that’s happening and how we can change it.

Take action

You can keep tabs on the Honoring Our PACT Act here — you can even sign up for email alerts. Tell everyone you know about this issue, and please don't be shy about contacting your representatives. You can also sign the petition that Jon started to show your support for this issue.

Sign the petition

Helping veterans more directly:

1) Register eligible veterans

Getting veterans who served near burn pits signed up for the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry is a great first step — even if they aren’t currently experiencing any health issues. This is separate from applying for VA benefits, and it allows the VA’s Burn Pits Center of Excellence to better track and understand the effects of toxic exposure.

Visit the registry

2) Donate your time

If you’ve ever tried to get a health insurance company to pay for something they don’t want to, you’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to file a VA claim. You can volunteer with groups that help people navigate this process. That might mean literally filling out paperwork with vets or making calls, but every organization has different needs. So if you’ve got special skills (anything from house painting to fundraising), offer them up. Find local groups by searching in your area or join a national grassroots organization like the Stronghold Freedom Foundation, which advocates for vets who were poisoned by chemical waste at the K2 base in Uzbekistan.

3) Other issues facing vets

Burn pit exposure is far from the only issue our vets are confronting. They struggle with unemployment and homelessness. They're also at higher risk for substance abuse, mental health conditions and suicide. (If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.) There are a number of VSOs (Veterans Service Organizations) that help vets navigate their lives and health after service. Here are a few to start with:

The American Legion

Veterans of Foreign Wars

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America