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Gillibrand enlists Jon Stewart on burn pit bill fight

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 5:45 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2020 at 6:00 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A Channel 3 News investigation two years ago revealed a connection between burn pits on U.S. military bases and veterans getting sick after being exposed to them. Now, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is announcing a bill that would help those vets. She was joined Tuesday by comedian Jon Stewart, a vocal advocate for 9/11 first responders who got sick after being exposed to toxins at ground zero.

“Our veterans lived 24-hours a day seven days a week next to toxic smoke,” said Jon Stewart, standing on the Capitol steps alongside 9/11 responders and veterans. His message to lawmakers -- burn pits kill.

They’re illegal in the U.S,. but according to the VA, burn pits in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asia may have exposed as many as 3.5 million veterans to toxic fumes and carcinogens. Dozens of Vermonters among them later got sick and some died. Everything was burned in the pits including tires, medical waste, human waste, metals, and trash.

Stewart fought Congress and won in the summer of 2019, extending the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.

The common link between the burn pits in the Middle East and ground zero on 9/11 -- jet fuel -- which accelerated the burns both in New York and on U.S. bases.

“The only difference between the first responders at Ground Zero who are sick and dying from toxic exposure is that that was caused by a terrorist attack on our country. The veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering the same illnesses and the same toxic exposure because of the actions of our own government,” Stewart said.

“Veterans lived and breathed in a toxic cocktail of dust, smoke, and debris. Now, many are sick and dying from lung disease,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.

(KVLY)

Gillibrand introduced the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and other Toxins Act of 2020″ It would remove the burden of proof from the veteran to provide evidence he or she got sick because of burn pit exposure. Instead, the veteran would only need to submit evidence of deployment to one of the 34 countries named in the bill, or receipt of a service-medal associated with the Global War on Terror or Gulf War.

“We always have money for war, we never have money for the warfighter, and it’s unacceptable,” Stewart said.

Gillibrand says she’s talking to Republicans to get bipartisan support and thinks she might have backing from a colleague on the Armed Services Committee. She says it may take two months, it may take a year, but the bill will pass, because “it’s the right thing to do.”

Gillibrand says she’s waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to determine the legislation’s price tag, but she added that caring for veterans when their fight is over should be part of the cost of war.

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Battle Over Burn Pits, Part 1

Battle Over Burn Pits, Part 2

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