'We always have money for war, but we never seem to have money for the warrior'

Flanked by the families of veterans who have died or been grievously sickened by their exposure to burn pits while serving in the Global War on Terror, 9/11 first responders advocate and former The Daily Show host Jon Stewart joined lawmakers and veterans advocates on Capitol Hill on Sept. 15 to launch a new campaign aimed at helping the hundreds of thousands of veterans impacted by toxic exposure.

The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2020 – a piece of legislation sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Raul Ruiz – would address obstacles many veterans face when seeking health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for illnesses related to toxic exposure.

“Right now, a lot of veterans are denied coverage when they get a disease,” Gillibrand said. “Our servicemembers who have served so bravely and were exposed to these toxins deserve to have everything covered – full healthcare for the rest of their lives.”

“This bill will make presumptive benefits for war fighters exposed to burn pits and toxins so they will be recognized and receive the medical care and disability benefits … for them to survive and live a healthy life,” said Ruiz.

While the Department of Defense is beginning to track locations where it utilized burn pits and which chemicals could have been in the toxic fumes, the data is far from complete, leaving the more-than 200,000 veterans currently listed in VA’s burn pit registry in limbo.

“If you’re a veteran and you’re sick, they put you on trial. You’re a defendant in a trial about your own health,” Stewart said of the obstacles veterans face when seeking VA health care for toxic exposure-related illnesses.

“We thought it was done,” Stewart said, referring to the 15-year-long fight to get Congress to recognize the devastating impact breathing in toxins has had on 9/11 first responders. “It turns out that the war fighters that were sent to prosecute the battle based on the attack on 9/11 now suffer the same injuries and illnesses the first responders suffered from and they’re getting the same cold shoulder from Congress.

“We always have money for war, but we never seem to have money for the warrior. The whole thing is to not let this happen in the dark.”