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Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2019

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. WELCH. Mr. Chairman, my amendment would increase the VA medical services account by $5 million for the purpose of strengthening the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.

Burn pits, as you know, Mr. Chairman, were commonly used on U.S. military sites during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to burn all types of waste--from chemicals, paint, medical waste, and human waste to munitions, petroleum, plastics, and rubber. But, as you know, many members of the military who were exposed to burn pits are beginning to experience negative health effects from the toxic smoke that they inhaled. And that is why I am offering this amendment, to increase funding to address and assist those suffering more aggressively and quickly.

On May 7, Mr. Chairman, I met with a group of Vermont National Guard members led by Pat Cram, who have been impacted by burn pit exposure. Pat is the wife of Sergeant Major Mike Cram of the Vermont National Guard who died this past December from prostate cancer that is believed to be a direct result of his exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sergeant Major Cram first deployed to Iraq in 2004 with a group of MPs from the 42nd Infantry Division of the Vermont National Guard. They joined up with the 278th Tennessee National Guard Calvary in Iraq. All 21 soldiers from this group that deployed together for 18 months returned home to their families safely.

But since their safe return, this same group has lost two members from prostate cancer and another has been treated for it, and they believe their exposure to burn pit toxins is the reason.

This group is still close, they stay in touch, their families support each other. I was so inspired to hear about how they have stuck together throughout the years. But those members that have not had the direct health issues that some of their comrades have are now wondering whether they, too, will get sick.

This funding would provide resources to the VA to make necessary improvements to the registry and prepare for the long-term care for those affected veterans. It would also allow, Mr. Chairman, the VA to hire analysts and epidemiologists who can connect the registry entries to health outcomes, make necessary technological updates to the registry, and increase the funding for essential clinical research.

The cost of a war must always include the cost of caring for the warrior, and this critical funding helps to do just that.

I want to thank Chairman Carter and Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz for their attention to this issue and willingness to help.

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Mr. WELCH. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman from Texas, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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