U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Justin Williams

Akin introduces burn pit bill

Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri is sponsoring a House bill that will create a registry at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for veterans diagnosed with disorders associated with exposure to burn pits.

The announcement regarding Akin's "Open Burn Pits Registry Act of 2011" was made at a Nov. 3 press conference in Washington. It is Akin's hope that such a registry will provide VA with better understanding of adverse effects from burn pit exposure, and how it can improve treatment for veterans suffering from those effects.

The American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong recently sent a letter of support to Akin, writing that the bill "is an important first step toward providing much-needed safeguards for those men and women who protect America and our freedoms." Wong also noted in the letter that The American Legion has learned, "often the hard way," that exposure to battlefield hazards such as Agent Orange and ionizing radiation demands "early and aggressive action" to cope with the long-term effects.

"This registry will enable the (VA) to better track those exposed to dangerous burn pits and help facilitate further research to ensure we do not leave these exposed veterans behind in treatment," Wong wrote in the letter.

Tim Tetz, the Legion's legislative director, said Akin's bill "is an important first step, but we need to keep our attention focused on burn pit hazards and make sure we don't overlook the potential dangers of long-term exposure."

Tetz said The American Legion assisted in bringing the dangers of Agent Orange exposure to VA's attention in the 1980s and supported VA in its efforts to improve its health care for Gulf War veterans.

"We need to make sure that we monitor the potential health hazards burn pits have on our men and women serving overseas, and make certain we do the right thing by seeing to their health-care needs as veterans," Tetz said.