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Advocates Talk Toxic Exposure & Chronic Headache

What do TV personality Jon Stewart, U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, a retired New York firefighter and an Army veteran all have in common? A passion for advocacy and the desire to improve access to treatment for migraine disease.

Each advocate was featured recently in “Chronic Headache Disorders & Toxic Exposure,” a national virtual policy discussion hosted by The Headache & Migraine Policy Forum and the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy. The event, summarized below in seven quotes, focused on the long-term impact of airborne hazards and burn pit exposure on 9/11 first responders and veterans.

  • “If America is willing to send our service members into harm’s way to defend our democracy, then she must be willing to take care of all those who went into battle.”

    Representative Mark Takano (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, is committed to improving access to care for veterans. He emphasized that the country has a responsibility to help veterans living with migraine disease and headache disorders.

  • “This is an eminently solvable problem. The urgency is now. People will continue to die and suffer needlessly if we don’t get this done.”

    Jon Stewart, national advocate and former host of The Daily Show, used his influence to urge policymakers to do what’s necessary for service personnel with toxic exposures.

  • “Cluster headache is also known as suicide headache. I learned you’re 20 times more likely to end your life with this condition.”

    Joe McKay, a retired New York City firefighter, started having cluster headaches after first responding on 9/11. Joe educated himself on his condition. Now, he channels his pain toward increasing awareness about the debilitating condition.

  • “Exposure can lead to problems even years later. More than 26% of veterans exposed will get severe headaches.”

    Jason Sico, MD, national clinical lead for the VA Headache Disorders Centers of Excellence, backed fellow panelists’ concerns with real-life data on what veterans experience coming home.

  • “Approximately 1 in 5 veterans have migraine disease, but no one is talking about it.”

    Paula Dumas of the World Health Education Foundation emphasized that migraine disease, historically thought of as a “woman’s disease,” is nearly as prevalent among veterans as among women.

  • “We always say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ But it should be, ‘Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice. What can I do to help you ease the pain you’ve suffered?’

    In addition to serving in the Army, John Feal also was a first responder on 9/11. He’s become a vocal proponent of efforts to ensure the country properly supports veterans and first responders for their service.

  • “We urge every member of Congress to be a champion of this issue.”

    Robert E. Shapiro, MD, PhD, professor of neurological sciences at the University of Vermont and founder of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy, closed the event by underscoring everyone can be an advocate, but lawmakers have the power to change policies that can improve the quality of life for headache and migraine patients.

“Chronic Headache Disorders & Toxic Exposure” coincided with Headache on the Hill, an annual advocacy event aimed at improving awareness about the impact of headache disorders and the need for research funding.

To learn more about The Headache & Migraine Policy Forum’s advocacy efforts, visit

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