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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I certainly thank the members of the committee and Mr. Bilirakis for working in such a bipartisan manner to protect servicemembers and protect veterans. I think Mr. Bilirakis gave a very comprehensive overview of the bill. Let me just make a couple of points here.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which a Democratic Congress passed a couple of years ago, was really a milestone for our current crop of veterans. Almost 800,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have now made use of the benefits that this bill provides. We ought to be, as a Congress, very proud of that kind of legislation.
With so many thousands of veterans using their Post-9/11 GI Bill, it's important, obviously, that they understand their benefits and eligibility and have all the information available to them. That's what H.R. 4057 does, which Mr. Bilirakis outlined quite nicely. Veterans are going to be able to get the kind of information that they need to get the best educational benefits that are suited to them.
Let me just say one thing about section 4 of the bill, which authorizes the Department of VA to establish a burn pit registry for eligible veterans.
Mr. Speaker, every time that we send men and women into combat, we have to make sure we understand the risks associated with exposures to toxic substances and take responsibility when we expose our own troops to these effects. We haven't done that in the past. We ought to learn more from history. Whether it was atomic testing in World War II, whether it was agent orange in the Vietnam War, whether it was depleted uranium, we've done the same thing over and over again. We've either denied or underestimated the risks. It took years, even decades, to admit the risks. When we finally did that, we still make our veterans undergo lots of bureaucratic hoops to get the benefits that come from exposure to the very substances that we put them at risk for.
Let's not repeat that pattern. This open pit registry will be part of that effort. We want to understand the risks. We want people to know where they have been exposed.
I requested the General Accountability Office to help us in our efforts to better understand health risks associated with the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. We all know that the preliminary reports have shown that the fumes from these pits produce a considerable amount of contaminants that may cause short-term and long-term harm to our servicemembers.
Finally we're having a proactive measure and one which I hope will benefit veterans in an extremely positive way. I thank Mr. Bilirakis and his colleagues for working with our colleagues for the bill, and I reserve the balance of my time.
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