Comedian and former host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” Jon Stewart joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) on Tuesday as they introduced legislation that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to give healthcare to veterans affected by illnesses stemming from exposure to toxic burn pits during their service.
During the press conference, Stewart criticized Congress for prioritizing budget items like the F-35 fighter jet over healthcare support for veterans exposed to burn pits and other harmful sources of toxins. Stewart said, “The A-10 already takes care of everything it could possibly take care of. The F-35 is gonna be useless. They’re gonna make 2,400 of them for 1.4 trillion dollars. Just make 2,000 of them and we have the money. This is bullshit. The money is already in the system, we’re just not allocating it to the right people.”
Twitter user Timothy Burke tweeted with a video of Stewart’s F-35 remarks. “Jon Stewart, American hero, and defender of the A-10 Thunderbolt II.”
Jon Stewart, American hero, and defender of the A-10 Thunderbolt II. pic.twitter.com/dqnqqhHDII
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 15, 2020
The issue of military exposure to toxic burn pits has attracted attention from many veteran advocacy groups such as Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) and Burn Pits 360. The veteran-founded Grunt Style clothing and lifestyle company has also worked alongside Burn Pits 360 and Stewart to raise awareness on the issue affecting many veterans.
TEAM estimates more than 3 million current and former service members of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been exposed to toxins.
Following his advocacy for more healthcare support for 9/11 victims through the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, Stewart noted many of the same healthcare concerns for those 9/11 victims exposed to harmful toxins also apply to U.S. service members who worked around burn pits during foreign deployments.
“The only difference between the first-responders at ground zero, who were sick and dying from toxic exposure, is that that was caused by a terrorist attack on our country,” Stewart said. “The veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering the same illnesses and toxic exposure because of the actions of our own government. We dug burn pits, some of them ten acres; they burned 24/7 everything, every hazardous waste was piled into them.”
Stewart continued, “What’s the common ingredient? Jet fuel. Jet fuel as the accelerant at ground zero. Jet fuel as the accelerant in these burn pits. And so our veterans lived 24 hours a day, seven days a week next to toxic smoke, dioxins, everything. And now they’re being told ‘hey man, is that stuff bad for you, I don’t know, we don’t have the science.’ It’s bullshit.”
Here’s the full press conference:
Stewart went on during the press conference to introduce several advocates for compensation for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, including Burn Pits 360 co-founder Rosie Torres, widow Daniel Robinson, and several veterans and victims of various toxic exposures during their military service.
Stewart said the current healthcare that veterans are receiving requires them to advocate for themselves and prove that their conditions are service-related.
“Each soldier that comes home is put on trial for their healthcare, because if the VA and the Pentagon can make it so that their health condition is not a part of their service, [the VA and the Pentagon] don’t have to pay any money,” Stewart said.
According to Task & Purpose, the VA only attributes a limited number of temporary health effects to burn pit exposure. A readout of Gillibrand and Ruiz’ proposed legislation would expand the list of illnesses associated with burn pits and toxic exposure to include:
- Asthma that was diagnosed after service in a country or territory listed
- cancer of any type
- chronic bronchitis
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
- granulomatous disease
- Interstitial lung disease
- Pulmonary fibrosis
The readout also provides a full list of 34 countries and territories, dating back to deployments in August of 1990, where U.S. troops may have been subject to toxic exposure from burn pits and other causes.