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Congressman Joaquin Castro

Representing the 20th District of Texas

Castro, Ruiz, King, and Bilirakis Introduce Jennifer Kepner HOPE Act to Provide Low-Cost Healthcare to Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits

Aug 13, 2019
Press Release
The bill would allow veterans exposed to burn pits to be eligible for low-cost healthcare from the Veterans Administration

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 Intelligence and Education and Labor Committees, Congressman Raul Ruiz (CA-36), Congressman Peter King (NY-2), and Congressman Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) today introduced H.R. 4137, the Jennifer Kepner Healthcare for Open-Air Burn-Pit Exposure (HOPE) Act, to help veterans exposed to burn pits receive access to quality, affordable medical care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

“While defending our nation overseas, many service-members were exposed to toxic fumes from burn pits and now suffer health complications as a result. Upon returning home, these courageous men and women have experienced various illnesses, and deserve all of our support. Representing Military City, USA, I have worked to raise awareness of this devastating situation and fought to ensure that we take care of our veterans,” said Congressman Castro. “With the Jennifer Kepner HOPE Act, those enduring the harmful effects of burn pits will be able to get low-cost healthcare and necessary treatment from the VA. After they have served this country valiantly, it is imperative that Congress acts to ease their financial burden. We must answer the call, just as they did for the United States.”

“Jennifer Kepner was a hero who courageously battled pancreatic cancer while fighting for her fellow veterans suffering from pulmonary conditions and rare cancers linked to burn pit exposure,” Dr. Ruiz said. “I am humbled to introduce the Jennifer Kepner HOPE Act in her memory, legislation that will ease the financial burden on sick veterans who have served and sacrificed for our nation by reducing their health care costs from the VA. We must not turn our back on this growing public health crisis. Jennifer’s empathy and courage continue to inspire me in this fight for our veterans to get the health care and benefits they have earned and deserve.”

“Jennifer Kepner’s courageous story of advocacy reflects the countless stories of hardship that are endured by so many Veterans who were exposed to burn pit toxins during their service. This bipartisan bill is a first step toward ensuring these heroes have access to the care and treatment they deserve. We have a moral obligation to do right by these young men and women. It is the very least they deserve,” said Congressman Bilirakis.

Background:

  • The use of burn pits was a common waste disposal practice at military sites outside the United States, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    • Smoke from these pits contained substances that may have short- and long-term health effects, especially for those who were exposed for long periods or those more prone to illness such as individuals with pre-existing asthma or other lung or heart conditions.
    • Waste products in burn pits include, but are not limited to: chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metal/aluminum cans, munitions and other unexploded ordnance, petroleum and lubricant products, plastics, rubber, wood, and discarded food.
  • Veterans who were closer to burn pit smoke or exposed for longer periods may be at greater risk. Health effects depend on a number of other factors, such as the kind of waste being burned and wind direction.
    • Toxins in burn pit smoke may affect the skin, eyes, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, gastrointestinal tract and internal organs.
  • The VA established the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry in 2014, which is a database of information about Veterans and Servicemembers.
    • The registry helps researchers to study the health effects of burn pits and other airborne hazards.

 

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