Mike Rounds

06/03/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/03/2020 15:29

Rounds, Klobuchar Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Servicemembers and Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Receive Proper Care During Coronavirus Pandemic


WASHINGTON - U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) today introduced legislation to make sure that servicemembers and veterans with previous exposure to burn pits receive the care they need during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Pandemic Care for Burn Pits Exposure Act would require the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ask servicemembers and veterans who have tested positive for a virus designated by the federal government as a pandemic, including COVID-19, if they were previously exposed to burn pits, so they can properly address their medical needs and make certain they receive proper care. The legislation is also cosponsored by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).'Servicemembers and veterans who have been exposed to open burn pits during the course of their duty to our nation are more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses,' said Rounds. 'These illnesses, such as asthma, may put individuals at a higher risk of experiencing dangerous symptoms if they contract a virus like COVID-19. Our legislation will require the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to assure that this risk is identified and integrated into patient care plans. It will also enable research on how COVID-19 affects individuals exposed to burn pits so that the government can develop better protection and treatment strategies for those who have answered the nation's call.

'Many of our servicemembers and veterans are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic, especially those who were stationed near burn pits,' said Klobuchar. 'As a result of being exposed to toxic substances from burn pits during their military service, many suffer from significant respiratory illnesses, and now they may face heightened health risks during the pandemic due to previous toxic exposure. This legislation would help to ensure that they receive the care they need.'

This bill would require the DOD and VA to ask servicemembers and veterans - who have tested positive for a virus that is designated as a pandemic by the federal government, including COVID-19 - if they were exposed to burn pits. Servicemembers and veterans exposed to toxic airborne chemicals or stationed near an open burn pit will also be enrolled in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, unless they choose to opt out.

The bill also directs the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence to conduct a study of the health impacts on servicemembers and veterans who test positive for a virus that is designated as a global pandemic - including those who test positive for COVID-19 - and were exposed to burn pits and toxic substances.

The legislation is endorsed by the Toxic Exposures in the American Military (TEAM) coalition, which is comprised of 30organizations,including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA) and Wounded Warrior Project.

In April, Rounds and Klobuchar wrote aletterto the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to take additional measures to make certain that our at-risk veterans - including those exposed to burns pits and other toxic substances - receive the care they need during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.