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Arizona veterans could benefit from new burn pit bill

Posted at 7:30 PM, Aug 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-03 22:30:41-04

PHOENIX — A new bill, if approved, would expand health care benefits for 3.5 million veterans exposed to burn pits.

In Arizona, nearly 7,400 veterans have reported being exposed to airborne hazards like burn pit smoke.

The bill will now go to President Joe Biden's desk for his signature.

“I look forward to signing this bill, so that veterans and their families and caregivers impacted by toxic exposures finally get the benefits and comprehensive health care they earned and deserve,” Biden said.

"It's a sigh of relief because now a lot of veterans have validation," said Anthony Irby, an Army veteran.

Irby served in the Army for 10 years and fought in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom and remembers what it was like to be around burn pits.

"Whole lot of black soot smoke that comes out and you breathe in, it's not very good to breathe in," he said.

Now he works with the nonprofit Operation Restoring Veteran Hope and helps other veterans with their VA claims.

He said the bill will make it easier for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits to get health care and disability.

"I think a lot of veterans will say this is a great step but we need to go a little more," he said.

The legislation was inspired by the Health Care For Burn Pit Veterans Act that was sponsored by Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

Sinema told ABC15 she was proud to be part of the process.

The senator serves on the Veterans Affairs Committee and worked with other members to pass the legislation.

"I was confident the bill would pass," Sinema said. "Our ultimate vote passed with 86 votes which is fairly unheard of in the United States Senate."

The bill was being delayed by some Republican members of Congress.

However, veterans and advocates including comedian Jon Stewart protested the stalling and eventually, lawmakers voted in favor of the bill.

In addition to expanding health care to veterans affected by burn pits, the bill would create more training and resources to help the VA identify veterans exposed to burn pits.

"This will make an incredible difference in the lives of those veterans," said Sinema.

"The reality is there's probably more than 7,000 veterans because, right now, all veterans are not assured a toxic exposure screening. Our bill provides every veteran access to this screening," she added.