With support from Jon Stewart, the tens of thousands of veterans affected by burn pit and other toxic exposures have made crucial strides in their effort to get federal agencies, like the Veterans Administration, to provide much-needed assistance for medical coverage.
The former host of "The Daily Show" recently focused his philanthropic sights on bringing awareness to ongoing efforts on the issue, which occurred when service members and contractors were exposed to a toxic stew of airborne pollutants while stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“You deserve more than the country’s gratitude for your service,” Stewart says in a message directed to veterans in a two-minute public service announcement released in September 2019.
“You deserve full medical benefits to help you with your illness. Together we are going to work to get you justice and get you healed.”
Stewart has seemingly made good on his promise as he recently held a meeting on the issue with top lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Fox News has learned.
The comedian headed back to the Hill, along with advocacy group Burn Pits 360, and met with lawmakers that included Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-CA. He was joined by 9/11 first responders advocate John Feal of the FealGood Foundation.
Both Feal and Stewart successfully lobbied on the Hill to ensure that compensation was provided to first responders at Ground Zero.
“John Feal, Jon Stewart and the 9/11 advocates had already laid out the blueprint we needed to bring awareness to the injustice plaguing our veterans and contractors,” Rosie Lopez, founder, and operator of Texas-based Burn Pits 360 said to Fox News.
“There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Denying our veterans a disability presumption and specialized health care is denying them the right to life. Period.”
During the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the burn pit method was adopted originally as a temporary measure to get rid of waste and garbage generated on bases. Everything was incinerated in the pits, including plastics, batteries, appliances, medicine, dead animals and even human waste. The items were often set ablaze with jet fuel as the accelerant.
The pits burned more than 1,000 different chemical compounds day and night, and most service members breathed in toxic fumes with no protection.
Stewart is the first mainstream celebrity to throw his support behind the cause, and his advocacy comes on the heels of successful lobbying efforts made by him and the FealGood Foundation in Congress to enact permanent funding for the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.
“If we have the money to send them to war, then we should have to money to take care of them when they come home sick and broken,” Feal said to Fox News.
At last week’s meeting, the proposal of two new bills was discussed. One is intended to provide quick help to veterans. If passed into law, it would mandate that compensation be provided to veterans to cover expenses for medical treatment. The second bill would provide assistance to veterans for a wide range of illnesses linked to toxic exposure of any kind, such as contaminated water while stationed on a military base.
Both Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Ruiz say they are hopeful that some sort of new legislation could be passed into law.
“Senator Gillibrand is currently drafting a bill to provide presumptive coverage for veterans who deployed all over the world in support of military operations and humanitarian crises and who are now suffering from diseases that are linked to burn pit exposure,” Evan Lukaske, a spokesman for Gillibrand told Fox News adding that the bill is based off the Agent Orange Act of 1991, which implemented presumptive coverage for Vietnam veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange.
“Senator Gillibrand is dedicated to getting veterans the support and benefits they’ve earned,” he added.
Ruiz, who has long been an advocate for assisting those exposed to burn pits and has drafted numerous reform bills, said that legislation supporting our veterans is urgently needed and he believes they are making headway on a path to such reform.
“The leadership displayed by service members, their families, and veteran advocacy groups is important and their stories are powerful and inspiring,” he said. “Together, we will continue building momentum to end the use of burn pits and help exposed service members and veterans get the care they need.”