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Congressman Joaquin Castro

Representing the 20th District of Texas

Castro Introduces Two Measures to Help Veterans Affected by Burn Pits

Feb 6, 2019
Press Release
Measures Allow Family Members to Participate in Burn Pit Registry, Amend Disability Ratings to Include Obliterative Bronchiolitis

WASHINGTON—Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Vice Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a member of the House Committees on Intelligence and Education and Labor, today introduced two measures that would help U.S. Military veterans who have been negatively affected by exposure to toxic burn pits. Specifically, the Congressman introduced the Family Member Access to Burn Pits Registry Act of 2019 (H.R.1001) and the Burn Pits Veterans Revision Act of 2019 (H.R. 1005).

“The military used over 250 burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan to discard military waste at sites, leaving lasting and sometimes fatal health effects to service members who became exposed. Air sampling data shows us that toxic fumes form these burn pits contained chemicals associated with respiratory and lung conditions including obliterative bronchitis (OB), and we must make sure the United States Department of Veterans Affairs have the proper diagnostic codes to provide veterans the compensation they deserve” said Chairman Castro. “The Family Members Access to Burn Pits Registry Act of 2019 and the Burn Pits Veterans Revision Act of 2019 seek to address these issues and ensure our service members—and deceased veterans’ loved ones—receive the necessary resources and competition for service-connected illnesses they may be experiencing. As lawmakers, we have a moral responsibility to care for our service members and veterans just as they cared for and protected U.S. national security abroad.”

Given the broad exposure to burn pits during service, we must allow immediate family members to participate in the United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Airborne hazards and Open Burn Pits Registry on behalf of a deceased veteran or service member—something that is currently prohibited under law. Currently, 150,000 veterans and service members use this registry to document their health issues—including lung diseases and cancer—which they believe originate from their exposure to these burn pits’ fumes. The Family Member Access to Burn Pits Registry Act of 2019 would:

  • Require the VA to allow family members to participate in this registry on behalf of a deceased veteran or servicemember
  • Enable family members to document the experience of their loved ones; and
  • Help the government analyze long-term health effects of burn pit exposure.

We also know that the VA lacks a diagnostic code for OB and in some cases has analogized the disease with asthma, which is not fully reflective of the functional impairments caused by OB. As a result, some veterans have received a rating that does not properly compensate them for their functional impairments when they are entitled to a much higher rating. The Burn Pit Veterans Revision Act of 2019 seeks to address this issue by directing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to amend the schedule for rating disabilities to add a specific diagnostic code and evaluation criteria for OB. Specifically, this legislation would:

  • Require that no later than 180 days after the date of enactment the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall amend the schedule of rating disabilities to add a diagnostic code and evaluation criteria for obliterative bronchiolitis; and
  • Provide a process by which a veteran currently receiving service connected compensation for an environmental (burn pit) exposure related disability may be reevaluated and assigned a new disability rating with no reduction to the veterans current disability rating.

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