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Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2019

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. WELCH. Mr. Chairman, my amendment would increase funding for the Department of Defense health programs by $1 million to improve coordination between DOD and the VA on research and findings related to toxic exposure to burn pits.

As you know, burn pits were commonly used on U.S. military sites during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to burn all types of waste from chemicals, paint, and medical and human waste to munitions, petroleum, plastics, and rubber. But, also, 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 while on duty.

That is why I am offering this amendment: to increase cross-agency communication and research so that the Departments can assist those suffering more aggressively and quickly.

On May 7, I met in Vermont with a group of 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, believed to be a direct result of his exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he did several tours.

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, who deployed together for 18 months, returned home safely, thank God.

But since their safe return, that same group has lost two members from prostate cancer, and another has been treated for it. They believe, and some of the medical professionals believe, that the explanation is that it occurred as a result of exposure to burn pits.

This funding would provide some resources necessary for the VA and Pentagon to work on the issue together effectively so that we can address the direct relationship between burn pits and severe health conditions.

This amendment idea aligns with a June 2018 GAO recommendation that highlighted the need for these Departments to work together to solve this issue. This is reminiscent, potentially, of the Agent Orange situation where, for many years, people were trying to figure out what the cause of the cancers were, and it turned out, after a lot of investigation, that it was directly related to Agent Orange.

Mr. Chairman, I thank Chairman Granger, who, on occasion, I have traveled with and whose service I have really respected, and Ranking Member Visclosky, for their attention to this issue and willingness to help.

Mr. Chairman, I thank the great group of Members who worked with me on this amendment, including Representatives Soto, Bilirakis, Gabbard, Wenstrup, Ruiz, and Rosen.

Mr. Chairman, I urge support for my amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. WELCH. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentlewoman for her support, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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