Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus urged Congress in an interview with Fox News on Monday to make good on its “sacred obligation” to support the growing number of veterans sickened by exposure to burn pits at U.S military bases abroad.
- “By and large, our country does an extraordinary amount for our veterans and for those who are serving in uniform, and for their families,” Petreaus, currently a board member for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told Fox News. “But comparing what our VA does to any other country’s care of veterans…this is the gold standard. Certainly, a gold standard that can always improve, without question. This is an issue, though, where we have a sacred obligation, and we need to meet that obligation.”
- In a July letter to Congress mentioned by Fox News and obtained by Task & Purpose, Petraeus called upon lawmakers to support the Burn Pits Accountability Act, legislation introduced in May that would direct the Department of Defense to include questions regarding burn pit exposure among U.S. service members health assessments.
- “If a service member reports being exposed, he or she will be enrolled in the Veterans Administration’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry,” wrote Petraeus of the 154,000-veteran strong VA database. “Over time, this will increase the quantity of data that the VA can evaluate, better enabling it to determine the effect of burn pit exposure and to identify the most effective treatment for those affected.”
- Claims arising from burn pit exposure claims are usually handled slowly and inconsistently by VA medical centers. Veterans’ advocates have for years urged the VA to define illnesses arising from burn pit exposure as presumptive-service connected disabilities tied to the circumstances of a deployment.
- While the Pentagon and VA maintain that there is empirical evidence of correlation or causality between burn pit exposure and deadly respiratory illness among U.S. service members, a February ruling by an administrative court judge established an important precedent by detailing the connection between exposure and lung disease in a federal contractor.
- As the IAVA noted in June, better data means better evidence. “Although established in 2014, only 141,000 have completed the registry questionnaire out of the 3.5 million veterans the VA says are eligible to register,’’ legislative director Tom Porter testified in June. “Only 1.7 percent of the post-9/11 veterans eligible to register have done so, and only 35 percent of IAVA members exposed have.”