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.

The burden of proof

As it stands, the burden of proof falls on veterans to show the VA that their condition is connected to their service. Weirdly, the VA’s own legal standard for approving disability claims says that the veteran should always get the benefit of the doubt, but that is not what’s happening in practice. The VA has instead denied more than 70% of the claims related to toxic exposure.

When Jon asked Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough what would help, his answer was to “file your claims.” Okay ... but people have been filing burn pit claims for years now and the VA keeps denying them. So why do it?

Well, it’s still really important to make sure everyone who is suffering from burn pit exposure is counted. The more burn pit claims pile up, the harder it is for the VA to put off dealing with the proverbial giant stack on their desk.

The government is kinda, finally on it?

Congress goes big

Last spring Sen. Tester (D-MT) introduced The Cost of War Act of 2021, and a companion bill was introduced in the House, sponsored by Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), called Honoring Our PACT Act of 2021. Jon has been a vocal advocate for passing this legislation because it would result in a system that takes the burden off the vets and establishes a path for handling any toxic exposures that occur in future wars.

The Honoring Our PACT Act finally passed in the House with bipartisan support on March 3, 2022. The sweeping legislation establishes presumption for 23 of the diseases that are linked to burn pit exposure, which is a huge victory for everyone who has been fighting so hard for so long to get burn pit victims the support they deserve. The bill is now with the Senate, and the best thing you can do right now is to start screaming (preferably not literally) at your senators to support these bills.

For Biden, it's personal

This fall, the Biden administration also announced plans to make certain processes easier for vets who have suffered from toxic exposure. It’s an issue that Biden has said is a priority for him, because he believes his son Beau’s brain cancer may have been caused by burn pit exposure during his service in Iraq. That was clearly demonstrated when he devoted several minutes of his State of the Union address to discuss our duty to care for veterans who were exposed to burn pits.