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Veterans exposed to burn pits could see expanded benefits

Posted at 6:52 PM, Feb 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-03 20:52:24-05

PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is pushing a new bill that would help post 9/11 veterans affected by burn pits.

For years, service members would use fire to destroy hazardous wastes including chemicals, plastic, human waste and gas. Now, troops are feeling the effects of being exposed to those toxic materials.

"Nearly one-third of post 9/11 veterans have been exposed to these toxic substances and they can't get access to VA care," said Sinema.

The Arizona Democrat is co-sponsoring a bill that would expand health care benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. The Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act, if approved, would increase the amount of time a veteran has to apply for care.

It would also require the VA to create an outreach program and make toxic screenings mandatory. In Arizona, more than 6,700 veterans have reported feeling the effects of toxic exposure.

"I had some respiratory issues and I thought it was asthmatic," said Army veteran Patrick Zeigart.

Zeigart was deployed to Iraq in 2005 when burn pits were commonly used.

He told ABC15 he started feeling some of the symptoms related to exposure when he returned in 2006.

"They seemed to dissipate over time but for the first few years it was like I was a heavy smoker that asthmatic symptoms -- couldn't breathe, couldn't catch my breath," he said.

"I wasn't able to do the physical exercises that we had to do for the Army," Zeigart added.

According to Sinema, Arizona veterans have had a 'troubled' history with the VA.

"What most veterans say -- when they get into the VA and have a doctor they trust they get good care but it's so hard to get in and get access and that's exactly what our bill addresses," Sinema added.

Sinema said she's confident it'll be signed into law but no vote has been scheduled.

The bill recently passed the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee with bipartisan support.