Lincoln veteran welcomes conversation on burn pits
House passes legislation that would give expediated health care and disability payments
LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — The House passed a bill on Thursday that would provide millions of veterans with expedited health care and disability payments related to illnesses caused by toxic exposure from burn pits.
Garrett Elting was deployed twice to Afghanistan while serving in the U.S. Marines.
He said burn pits are the modern-day equivalent of agent orange, referring to the danger it poses.
President Joe Biden spent some time talking about burn pits during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
“That it was brought up and is being talked about in that high circle is a good thing,” Elting said. “Hopefully, it doesn’t take 40 years like it did for the Vietnam vets.”
Burn pits are used to get rid of trash on bases overseas. All trash gets burned, including human feces.
Elting shared his first experience with a burn pit.
“On at least one occasion, once the burn pit got lit, all the smoke blew over our little area,” he said. “We had 27 guys, I want to say, in our platoon, and every single one of us got sick. We were puking and just couldn’t do anything for about a week.”
The bill passed Thursday is estimated to cost around $300 billion over the next 10 years.
“Our men and women in uniform, whatever their age, find themselves in harm’s way to fight for our freedom are also in harm’s way because of the burn pits,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “And they have cancer after the fact. Sometimes it doesn’t even come until 6 or 7 years later, but the fact is if they were present, there is a presumption that that is a relationship.”
Currently, these illnesses are not covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs health system.
“There is three or four rounds of cancer that guys had to go through that they had to pay for it themselves out of pocket, and now they are finally possibly going to get a rating for it so that they can maybe be compensated for all that money that they had to spend themselves,” Elting said.
Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska told Channel 8 in a statement that he backs the Senate version of the bill but not “the deficit busting House bill.”
“CBO reports the House bill would cost $10.8 billion over the next decade, and not a single penny of the PACT Act’s massive cost is offset,” Bacon said. “Improving health care and benefits for toxic-exposed veterans is a top priority of mine, and as a veteran, I’m glad the President addressed veterans, but his speech was a partisan screed. While inflation is at an all-time high and health care costs are skyrocketing, his and the Democrats’ solution is costly and undermines the services offered at VA hospitals.”
But Elting feels that this is a good start.
“I think now that this comes through, I think it validates a lot of people’s concerns that they had when they got out, or 10 years after they got out,” he said. “Now they have the lung capacity of an 80-year-old. I’m sure it has a lot to do with folks’ lifestyles, but also there were definitely some terrible chemicals ingested while we were over there.”
This legislation will now move to the Senate, which must pass this bill or a version of this bill before it can move to the president’s desk.