The Texas Senate passed a bill Thursday to create a statewide registry of veterans who were exposed to burn pit smoke. Open burn pits were a common method of waste disposal used by the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Some veterans exposed to the fumes have since reported health problems like cancer, pulmonary issues, and autoimmune disorders.
The Texas registry would collect veterans health information and try to isolate trends. It would also function as an outreach tool to inform service members, veterans and their families about:
the most recent scientific developments on the health effects of open burn pit smoke or other airborne hazards
the availability of treatment offered by the VA
the process for applying to the VA for service-related disability compensation
the manner of appealing to the VA an existing service-related disability rating decision or requesting an increased rating based on these illnesses and conditions
The Department of Veterans Affairs already maintains its own burn pit registry. However, that registry does not allow veterans to report declines in their health, and it does not permit family members to enter health and/or mortality information on a veteran's behalf.
Rosie Torres, co-founder of the veterans group Burn Pits 360, said those information gaps prevent VA from getting a full picture of how burn pits have affected veterans.
“To not be able to do that really skews the outcome of any proper data for epidemiology,” she said. “This is about addressing the flaws in the national registry, which, as it stands, is a useless tool. Because you don’t have the opportunity to address the true data.”
But, Torres said, the statewide registry seeks to remedy that.
“It will allow service members to submit a decline in health. More importantly, it will allow these families to submit death entries, to allow us to track mortality. Sort of a form of acknowledgment, honoring them.”
The VA’s current stance is that there is not enough evidence to show that burn pit exposure causes long-term health effects.
The bill awaits Gov. Abbott’s signature. It is scheduled to take effect Sept. 1, 2019.
Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.