Years of advocacy by numerous patients’ and veterans’ organizations, as well as comedian-turned-advocate Jon Stewart, has paid off.
President Biden last week signed a bill expanding medical benefits to veterans who suffer from exposure to toxic burn pits. The bipartisan legislation ushered in one of the largest expansions of military medical benefits in decades.
A Well-Known Issue
It’s been well chronicled that many veterans have suffered from exposure to burn pits – areas at military bases where everything from tires to chemicals to jet fuel were disposed.
The magnitude of the issue is clear, thanks in part to work by groups such as The Headache and Migraine Policy Forum, which has hosted several awareness-raising events. In addition to increased occurrence of headache disorders and migraine disease, exposed veterans have faced such medical problems as cancer, asthma, sleep apnea and sinus problems.
Dealing with these issues can be complicated and costly for veterans. Now, thanks to the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, it should be easier for veterans who were exposed to burn pits to get benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Broad Support for Veterans
A number of legislators were key to the bill’s passage, notably Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee of Veterans Affairs. “If America is willing to send our service members into harm’s way to defend our democracy,” Takano implored, “then she must be willing to take care of all those who went into battle.”
The Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy has taken a leadership role within the community to improve care for veterans. In addition to rallying support for the PACT Act, the group has led the advocacy effort to establish and further increase the number of VA Centers of Excellence. These Centers drive the delivery of state-of-the-art care for veterans who have disabling headache disorders.
To understand the potential impact of the legislation and the need for more Centers, consider these statistics:
- The Department of Veterans Affairs has approved disability claims for respiratory issues from close to 573,000 veterans who served in combat zones after 2001.
- Upwards of 36% of veterans who served a 12-month deployment to Iraq have been diagnosed with or exhibited symptoms of migraine.
Now, with this new law, hundreds of thousands of veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits should have easier access to the medical care they are owed.