U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) reported today that the U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee unanimously passed legislation that includes S. 1798, The Open Burn Pits Registry Act.
Udall became an advocate for a burn pit registry after meeting Albuquerque veteran Msgt. Jessey Baca and his wife Maria. MSgt Baca was stationed at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, which hosted approximately 25,000 personnel at the height of operations and over ten acres of land for burning toxic debris. MSgt Baca has faced a multitude of health problems believed to be associated with burn pits, and has advocated for helping service members in similar situations.
After meeting the Bacas, Udall introduced a bill in the Senate with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) in November 2011 to create a registry for returning service members and veterans experiencing health problems due to open-air burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I am pleased we are one step closer to helping our veterans and service members who are suffering following their exposure to open-air burn pits," Udall said. "I hope the full Senate will act quickly and pass this bipartisan bill for the heroes in New Mexico and across the country, like Jessey, who are struggling with the symptoms of these invisible wounds every day."
Udall's legislation establishes an open burn pit registry, similar to those created to track Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome, for individuals who may have been exposed during their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The registry would be created within 270 days of the legislation's enactment.
The bill will also help the VA determine to what extent air pollution caused by open air burn pits has led to medical diseases among service members. It also includes a public information campaign to inform individuals about the registry and periodically notify its members of significant developments associated with burn pit exposure.
Finally, the bill requires that an independent, scientific organization submit a report to Congress no later than 24 months after the establishment of the registry and again 5 years after the publication of the initial report to track the progress of the registry and its effect on service members.
Sen. Udall testified in support of S. 1798 before the U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee in June 2012, highlighting the story of MSgt Jessey and Maria Baca, who traveled from New Mexico to attend the hearing. Click here to see video and photo of Udall's testimony at the hearing.
The bipartisan bill, S. 1798, was introduced in November 2011 with seven original co-sponsors. It was incorporated into an omnibus bill, S. 3340, the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012, to improve and enhance the programs and activities of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which the Veterans' Affairs Committee passed today.
S. 1798 is supported by numerous groups, including Burn Pits 360, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Association of the U.S. Navy, Retired Enlisted Association, the Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees and the National Military Family Association.