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Biden admin releases new plan to support vets exposed to burn pits

Burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq. (Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/U.S. Air Force)
November 12, 2021

Veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins and harmful exposures will get expanded disability support under a plan announced by President Joe Biden’s White House on Thursday.

Under the new plan, which the Department of Veterans Affairs has been piloting since August, the department has been adding presumptive conditions under which it will award disability benefits to service members. The VA will also apply new models to establish service connections to various illnesses.

Burn pits and other toxic exposures have been an ongoing concern among the veteran community, for their risks of causing various cancers and other chronic illnesses. Military.com reported toxic exposures are a personal issue for Biden as he has said he believes his son, former National Guard Maj. Beau Biden, may have contracted his fatal brain cancer as a result of exposure to burn pits.

“In August, VA began processing disability claims for asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis based on presumed exposure to particulate matter,” the White House stated. “Veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations and other areas and who developed these conditions within 10 years of military service are now eligible to apply for disability benefits and access to VA health care.”

The White House also said the “VA will further test the new presumptive model to assess potential associations between military environmental exposures and constrictive bronchiolitis, lung cancers, and rare respiratory cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx or trachea and salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea. The President has directed VA to complete the review of rare cancers and provide recommendations about new presumptions of service connection within 90 days. Based on the results of this review, the Administration will consider initiating additional rulemaking.”

Additionally, the White House announced it plans to accelerate the development schedule of the Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record (ILER). ILER is the Department of Defense and VA’s planned system to track and record various hazardous substances and exposure risks. ILER is set to formally launch in September of 2023. The White House said the DoD now plans to “expand and accelerate the development schedule—and add additional data—enabling more comprehensive information on health risks of potential exposures to be more rapidly incorporated into service member and veterans medical care and benefit decisions.”

The White House said it will also expand efforts to bring awareness of the VA benefits that are available for victims of such toxic exposures, expand training for VA and non-VA health providers to understand and treat such exposures and establish a network of specialized care providers and call centers for such toxic exposures and expanding.

The White House also described extending eligibility periods for veterans to claim VA medical benefits. “The Administration will call upon Congress to implement a change to the statute to enable a longer enhanced enrollment period for the 3 million veterans who deployed to support recent combat operations.”

“The Administration will continue to prioritize efforts to support veterans who were exposed to environmental hazards during their military service. At the same time, the Administration will work with Congress on its encouraging ongoing efforts to ensure we are able to quickly and fairly recognize additional presumptions of service-connected disabilities, in order to live up to our sacred obligation to provide veterans the care they have earned,” the White House said.