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New bill seeks to help veterans get VA health care after exposure to toxic burn pits

New legislation seeks to recognize that veterans who served near burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations were exposed to airborne hazards and toxins.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Thousands of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits could be one step closer to getting health care and benefits for illnesses and diseases related to their exposure from Veterans Affairs.

Bi-partisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) seeks to formally recognize that veterans who served near burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations were exposed to airborne hazards, toxins and particulate matters. 

The sponsors of The Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act, Senate Bill 2950 say this recognition and concession could potentially help thousands of veterans who otherwise do not have documentation of their exposure.

"For years, we've known of the adverse health effects caused by burn pits, and in that time we've seen too many seriously ill veterans struggle to get help from the VA because they lacked the documentation to prove what everyone already knows—that they were exposed to toxic chemicals released by burn pits while serving overseas," said Randy Reese, Washington headquarters executive director of Disabled American Veterans. "This bipartisan bill will help get rid of red tape and assist affected veterans seeking burn pit-related benefits," a news release from Sullivan's office said.

More than,187,000 veterans and service members have submitted their information to the VA's Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. While the VA is continuing to study the health of deployed veterans, right now it says research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits.  

RELATED: Under Toxic Fire: Veterans believe exposure to burn pits made them sick

This legislation would not automatically grant benefits or health care to veterans who served near a burn pit. It also does not create a presumption of service connection, like veterans exposed to Agent Orange.  Veterans would still need to provide sufficient evidence of a link to a specific illness or disease to qualify for VA benefits.

"This bill is definitely a step in the right direction, but we need a more comprehensive bill," said Rosie Torres with the non-profit veterans organization, Burn Pits 360.  "We need to establish presumption for burn pit related illnesses and deaths, a scientific monitoring program and specialized healthcare. We need to follow the blueprint of the 9/11 advocates."

The legislation introduced in the Senate last Thursday has now been referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.