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Late Army veteran to have Burn Pit bill named in his honor

Heath Robinson, of Pickerington, suffered from exposure to toxic smoke from trash-burning pits while serving in the Middle East. He suffered from a rare cancer and died on May 6. His wife, Danielle, is pictured behind him. [Doral Chenoweth III/Dispatch/TNS]

Less than a month after Heath Robinson died, a bill named in his honor will be introduced in Congress.

The Pickerington native and former Sgt. First Class in the Ohio Army National Guard died May 6 at age 39 after battling lung cancer for three years. It was an illness that he believed was caused by his exposure to toxic smoke from open-burning trash pits during his deployment to the Middle East in 2006 and 2007.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, planned to introduce the “SFC Heath Robinson Burn Pit Transparency Act” in the House on Wednesday, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, announced that he would introduce it in the Senate next week.

The bill is designed to increase the accountability of the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration, as it would require more-detailed reporting on the thousands of veterans believed to be suffering from burn-pit related illnesses.

It would also require the U.S. Comptroller General’s office to assess the VA’s effectiveness in processing burn-pit cases, and the veterans’ care.

Although the VA did grant Robinson disability benefits, many veterans have had those benefits denied because the VA did not recognize their illnesses as “service-connected.”

Robinson’s widow, Danielle (he also left behind a 6-year-old daughter), said Robinson was not aware of the naming honor, but felt he would be pleased.

“I think he would think that this is at least a start,” Danielle Robinson said. “I know that he would think there’s still more that needs to be done. I hope that it opens up much more legislation going forward.”

Susan Zeier, Danielle Robinson’s mother, has become an outspoken advocate and lobbyist for the cause of burn-pit victims since Heath’s 2017 diagnosis.

She had met several times with Brown, who is on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Brown called Heath Robinson’s family the day he died to express condolences.

“(Zeier) told me every step of the way what had happened,” Brown said Wednesday. “(Heath) was a valiant soldier. He was a guy who served his country well.”


© 2020 The Columbus Dispatch