Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Buchanan Co-Sponsors Bill to Expand Coverage for Veterans Exposed to Toxic “Burn Pits”

Nov 11, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Following the death of a Sarasota County veteran, Congressman Vern Buchanan announced today he will co-sponsor legislation expanding health coverage for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.

Stephen Shull, 42, a Sarasota County Sheriff’s deputy, died of metastatic lung cancer Sunday. While serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Shull was exposed to toxic air at burn pits — sites used by the military to dispose of chemicals, medical waste, petroleum and other refuse. 

The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act would add 12 diseases to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of conditions presumed to be caused by exposure to burn pits. The conditions include: chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lymphoma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, granulomatous disease, constrictive bronchiolitis, pulmonary fibrosis, pleuritis, sarcoidosis, Interstitial lung disease, cancer of any type and asthma diagnosed after service.

“I’m deeply saddened by the death of Stephen Shull,  who served our country overseas and later protected our community here at home,” Buchanan said. “He is one of the many veterans who suffered from critical health problems after being exposed to toxic burn pits. Our country needs to learn from the tragic mistakes in long denying health coverage to Vietnam veterans and do the right thing.”

While primarily associated with Iraq and Afghanistan, burn pits have been used in dozens of countries around the globe including Syria, Sudan and Kyrgyzstan.The VA currently doesn’t recognize any presumptive conditions to provide benefits for airborne hazards such as burn pit exposure and requires veterans to prove their illnesses were caused by the exposure.  First established in 2004 to allow current and former service members to self-report health concerns and potential toxic exposures, more than 210,000 people have filed with the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. Over the past 13 years more than 75 percent of all claims for burn pit exposure were denied by the VA.

Specifically, the bill would require the VA to provide health benefits to service members exposed to these hazards and who suffer from the added ‘presumptive conditions.’ Veterans would need to submit evidence of deployment to one of  34 countries where burn pits were used or receipt of a service-medal associated with the Global War on Terror or the Gulf War. 

Buchanan, who represents more than 88,000 veterans in Southwest Florida, has a strong record of fighting for veterans and military families. Earlier this year, Buchanan co-sponsored legislation to expand health coverage to veterans exposed to the toxic chemical Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. In 2019, Buchanan introduced the Veterans Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act, which requires the VA to study the link between addictive opioids and the alarmingly high rate of suicides among veterans.