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tv   Washington Journal Jeremy Butler  CSPAN  June 13, 2022 2:29am-3:12am EDT

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announcer: "washington journal" continues. host: we are back with jeremy butler, ceo of the iraq and afghanistan veterans of america. he is here to talk with us about veterans' health care and the effects of burn pits. good morning. guest: thank you for having me. host: thank you for being here. first, remind our viewers what your organization does. guest: the thing we are most known for is our advocacy in washington, d c we represent post-9/11 veterans. there are many issues that overlap through generations and
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we will talk about that when we talk health care. we fight in washington, d.c. in congress, the v.a., department of defense to make sure our veterans are represented at they are getting what they need. that is our number one effort. we also try to do things like this, talking nationally. so that not just department of defense or service members, but everyone in the u.s. understand what veterans are dealing with and how they can help. finally, we have a direct support program to work with veterans to support them in anything they need. it is called the quick reaction force available 24/7, 365 days a week. they can go to our website to get more information. host: how many members do you have? guest: about 425,000 but the reality is it is more. our reach on social media, through programs like this, you do not have to be a member of
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iava but anybody can be a member. we are here to represent all veterans of all eras, but civilians can be members. we are going to keep you informed and for those veterans and service members, they can get involved directly with the work we do on capitol hill. they can make their voices heard through our surveys. they have an extra level of ability to really move the needle on veteran issues throughout this country. but i encourage everyone to go to we will let you know how you can help. host: for our viewers, explain who sergeant first class keith robinson was. guest: glad you asked. sometimes it gets lost. he is the face of this legislation we are fighting for. we will talk about that in a second, but sergeant first class keith robinson was an ohio national guard member. he did a deployment to
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afghanistan, 13 months long, he was two times the army national guard and ceo of the year. outstanding citizen soldier. he was serving his country in a civilian role and servicemember. he did a 13 month deployment to afghanistan, at least three of those were placing him within yards of a burn pit burning around the clock. not only was he living, eating, exercising, but for several months within feet of one of these burn pits and all the smoke that came from that. he was an incredible person. he came home from deployment, had plans to try out for special forces, but shortly thereafter found he was unable to recover from training runs. sadly, he diagnosed with an incredibly rare form of cancer.
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i am not going to try to repeat the name because it is really long and it took doctors a long time to pinpoint because it was rare. and because it was rare, they did not know how to treat it. sadly, he passed away from that lung cancer, leaving behind a wife and now a nine-year-old daughter. if you watch the president's's state of the union, you can see his wife danielle robinson as a guest. if you watched our press conference we did last week on the capitol before the honoring the pact act, you can see his mother and daughter. they have been advocates for this legislation. host: for our viewers who may not know, what is a burn pit? guest: it has been around for decades. it is not new but what is new is
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the size and duration of things that were burned. there were massive holes dug in the ground and you jumped jumped everything that the military and contactors -- dumped everything that the military and contractors did not want. they were covered with jet fuel and lit on fire. year after year, day after day they were burned around-the-clock. some of the largest were 125 tons of trash a day that were dumped and burned. this is a practice that has been banned in the united states for decades. but they were used year after year, decade after decade in iraq and afghanistan of getting rid of the trash. not surprisingly, we are seeing the health effects. they were evident from the time they started, but now so many years later we are seeing it in people like keith robinson and
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people coming down with rare illnesses and cancers and dying. unfortunately, the v.a. denied there is connection. 70% to 80% of veterans who come home and file for burn pit related problems the v.a. says, you are not making a good enough connection. that is unacceptable and that is what we are fighting to change with this legislation. host: how prevalent are these toxic exposures among members? guest: they are basically everywhere. if you deployed to iraq and afghanistan, you could not avoid a burn pit. you landed on one of these major bases. even if you were further deployed, one, you probably had a smaller burn pit at your deployment, but no matter what you were spending some amount of time on these large installations were massive burn pit were used.
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this was in testimony by a v.a. official who's asked that question prayed her response was basically everybody, everybody who deployed to iraq and afghanistan. it was not limited to there but everybody was exposed. the question is how much exposure? what was being burned at the time? how much exposure they had and whether or not their body was able to process it or, like too many, you come down with illnesses and are dying. host: we heard what happened to heath robinson. when other ailments are be hearing from people that were exposed? guest: president biden believes that his son beau, his brain cancer was a result of his deployment to iraq. and you have so many others. you have dr. kate hendrix thomas who was an incredible officer.
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she fought to her dying day because of breast cancer that spread throughout her body and she died from those. she deployed as well. sergeant first class -- sorry, sergeant wesley black, vermont national guard. deployed to afghanistan and iraq. came home and died of cancer as well. again, was fighting and advocating on this issue up until the day he died. left behind a wife and child. there are numerous cases in so many veterans that are fighting to get health care so they do not succumb to injuries. the v.a. needs to give them the health care they deserve. the numbers are growing. many came home immediately from their deployment with burn pit related health conditions. but we are seeing the affects of them really escalate as time goes on and conditions deteriorate and more of these cancers are allowed to spread. in the legislation we are talking about, there is 23
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illnesses, cancers, respiratory illnesses, etc., that are covered. if you come down with one of these and you deployed to one of these countries, the v.a. is going to give you health care, disability, and we are also going to continue to identify of the diseases correlated to burn pit exposure to make sure those are covered in the future. host: let me take two seconds to remind our viewers they can take part in this conversation. we are going to open regional lines. that means if you are in the eastern or central time zones, we want to hear from you at (202)-748-8000. if you are in the mountain or pacific time zones, your number is going to be (202)-748-8001. and we are going to open a special line for iraq and afghanistan veterans. iraq and afghanistan veterans,
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you have a special line where you can call that is (202)-748-8002. remember, if you are in the eastern or central time zones, (202)-748-8000. if you are in the mountain or pacific time zones, (202)-748-8001. iraq and afghanistan veterans, (202)-748-8002. keep in mind, you can always text at (202)-748-8003. we are always reading on social media on twitter @cspanwj and facebook at jeremy, talk about the challenges that veterans are seeing trying to get someone to treat them or diagnose them from these burn pit exposures. are we seeing this both in the private medical community and at the v.a.?
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or is it just at the v.a.? guest: it is everywhere because, you have to remember, how convoluted these were. depending on where you were at the time you were there it could have been different things being burned. the department of defense has no record of all that was dumped into these pits because there was no policy. everything was dumped. who knows what was dumped? who knows how much time you spent around it? depending on the wind you may have had more or less exposure. veterans are coming home and, in some cases, it has been several years. they might come down with symptoms that take them to the doctor, especially to private care, and they are not making the connection this could be connected to their time in uniform. certainly, as i explained at the top of the program, civilian providers have zero idea what a burn pit was. it takes the veterans making the connection to service,
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discussing that with their doctor, and then the doctor getting some sense of the breadth and depth of things that were burned, how illegal this is, and the results. what we have seen on the v.a. side is clear. 70% to 80%, even when a v.a. official knows what a burn pit is, they are demanding the veteran make that connection between their burn pit exposure and whatever illness or symptoms they are coming down with now and say, hey, show me the line of evidence that shows because of your exposure to those burn pits this is why you have come down with this. 70% to 80% of the time they say, we don't believe there is a connection, but good luck and get that taken care of. this is a widespread problem. a lot of people don't realize just because you served does not mean you get v.a. health care. that is a myth that is pretty common and that is why this legislation is so important. not only would it remove the burden of proof from the veteran
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to make that connection between their burn pit exposure whatever illness there coming down with, but it would also add another five years on so that every transitioning servicemember when they become a veteran, they would be eligible for 10 years of v.a. health care, regardless if they have service-connected disability. they would get into the v.a. system, get any issues they are having documented by the v.a., they could learn about the things they are coming down with in the types of conditions other veterans are suffering from, and we can begin to collect more information about what burn pit exposure does to a servicemember. this legislation is huge. all it is doing is asking, if not telling, the government to keep the promise they made when all the servicemembers raised their right hand and were promised if you are injured, if you are sick because of your time in service, we are going to take care of you. the government has backed out of that promise and maybe it is too
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expensive. maybe we do not want to deal with the hassle and that is why this is important. it would be the sweeping change to bring and fulfill the promise the government made to so many servicemembers 20 years of war over. host: this is going to come up in the senate which is said to pass this next week. it is called the honoring our promise to address comprehensive topic act, honoring our pact act. it would expand v.a. health care eligibility to noncombat veterans, ads 23 burn pit and toxic exposure conditions to v.a.'s lists of service presumptions, it expands presumptions related to agent orange exposure, it strengthens federal research on toxic exposure, improves the v.a.'s resources and training for toxic exposed veterans, and sets aside additional money to bolster v.a.
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claims processing and v.a. health care facilities. much of that is pretty much self-explanatory, but explain what presumption of services is. guest: glad you asked. basically what it says is if you served in one of these countries, iraq and afghanistan being two of the list but also includes syria, yemen, kuwait, and it goes back to before the post 9/11 era. if you served during these time periods and you come down with one of these 23 medical conditions, we will presume that you got that medical condition because of your time in service. therefore, you are eligible for v.a. health care and disability benefits. it removes the burden of proof from the veteran for proving their illness was a result of service. it presumes the eldest was because of service. that is an incredible change and something long-overdue.
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glad you put that list up. you saw agent orange listed. this is how far back the government deniability comes from. we know about agent orange's used during the vietnam war and have veterans had to fight for so long to get the government to recognize that. this legislation would continue to bring overdue benefits to vietnam veterans who served in the surrounding countries that were still exposed. we are still catching up with the vietnam war and the unkept promises the government made to veterans. in addition to what you listed, something else this legislation would fix is the fact that the u.s. government poisoned many of its own service and family members at camp lejeune in north carolina for years. this will finally rectify that situation and bring much-needed relief and benefits to those veterans. this legislation is huge. to add more point, it will be voted on hopefully next week. to get into the walkie weeds,
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there was a vote to end debate on this last week. it passed by a huge majority. 86 voted in favor but 12 senators voted against this bill, which included three senators who serve on the veterans affairs committees, two senators who are veterans themselves, one is still serving in the reserves, and a doctor. three of the people that voted against should be the most knowledgeable dow important and overdue this legislation is. want to encourage everyone who is listening to call your senators and ask them to vote yes on the pact act. even the 12 that voted against can turn around and vote yes. we need everyone to call their senators and tell them to vote yes. this should be 100-0 vote. this is keeping the promise the government made to its service members that they would take care of them, but for too long
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they have been turning their back. and these 12 senators decided we should keep our back turned to our veterans who are sick because of their service. it is unconscionable and shocking really. host: does this need to go back to the house? or does it go to the president after and when the senate passes? guest: it will go back to the house. the house voted on a version of this several weeks ago. it passed with large bipartisan majority. it should have had more. it should have been another unanimous vote, but unfortunately it wasn't. when it got to the senate, the senate improved it. senator jerry moran, ranking member on the v.a. committee, and senator jon tester actually improved the bill they got from the house. it is going to have to go back to the house but we think this is a good thing, because it is a stronger bill. that is what we want to see. nd theymous yes by the senate so
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can do the right thing. ident has already said he will sign this. the secretary of the v.a. says they want it. they understand how necessary this is for them to properly support our veterans. it actually provides additional resources for the v.a. so they are able to handle and take care of the increased number of veterans turning to the v.a. for health care because of this. it is really a win-win across-the-board for everyone. again, i do not mean to keep hinging on this, but it is shocking to any member of congress who almost guaranteed when they were running for election or reelection talked about how they love our veterans, yet so many have voted no. it is shameful and we need to call them out for it. host: let's get into our calls from our viewers. we are going to start with a veteran. we will start with bob calling from mountain home, idaho. good morning. caller: good morning. thank you for having me on.
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on these presumptions things jeremy is talking about, you have bladder cancer covered, but the prostate is not covered on these things. but if a female gets a hysterectomy, she is 50% disability for that. what is your opinion on that? guest: thank you for calling and asking. i don't have the list of presumptions in front of me. i should have brought it so we could touched on them. it is a broad list but another part of this legislation we did not cover is the framework put in place so the v.a. has an easier path to understand where there are toxic exposed illnesses that are more common and more expected to those exposed. they can be added to this presumption. this is just the starting point. these 23 are the starting point. more will come as we learn more.
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this is not the final list, but it is a huge step forward and there is a framework in place to continue to learn more and add more presumptives as time goes on. host: there is some people who are looking at this bill and looking at the presumption of service connection and say, that should be a reason to oppose the bill. here is an editorial from "reason" magazine that i want you to respond to. the pact act would create presumption service connection for 23 conditions, including several types of cancer, leukemia and bronchitis, for veterans stationed in 17 countries during particular times. including iraq through the goal and the gulf war. we could add more conditions and the bill would relieve veterans
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of having to prove any of those conditions were linked to better service in order to get v.a. coverage. that is obviously a pretty expansive set of eligibility criteria. someone who served in iraq and diagnosed with lung cancer decades later would be eligible for federally funded health care under the pact act, even if they were never exposed to a burn pet and were a lifelong smoker. that column argues we are making the categories too broad and allowing people who may be injured by something else to get veterans' care for something that did not happen during service. guest: it is kind of shocking the extremes some folks will go to to deny health care to veterans who deserve it. that writer is saying we might get health coverage to someone who may have gotten his or her lung cancer from some other
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pathway. if that is the worst case scenario, i don't think we are in a bad situation. the fact is right now, the government is denying the vast majority of those who definitely are coming down with debilitating and deadly illnesses because of their service. if we are going to start nitpicking any possible way in which someone might get health care that may or may not be directly related to service, i think we are talking about the wrong thing. it is unfortunate. the other argument you might hear from some senators -- although they will not say this out loud, this will be behind closed doors -- is that it is too expensive. that is another spurious argument. this is part of the cost of going to war. that is why it is called keeping the pact act. when you send service members to war, part of that cost is taken care of when they come home. for 20 years the senate had no problem authorizing billions of
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dollars year after year to fund these wars, and now they are trying to nickel and dime the health care of veterans second because of service. the other rationale -- although it is not rational -- for some in congress to vote against it is because the v.a. cannot handle the influx. again, a spurious argument. the legislation addresses that. it increases funding for the v.a. it increases physical space for the v.a. it increases staff. it increases claims adjusters. the v.a. itself, the secretary on down, they want this legislation to pass so they can turn their attention to treating veterans instead of having to do the research to try to come up with the clinical diagnosis to link these things. we know they are linked. this legislation would expedite the process the v.a. is already trying to do. that really is no good argument against this. host: let's talk to james calling from orange park,
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florida. james was a contractor in afghanistan. good morning. caller: good morning. how are you doing? host: just fine. go ahead. caller: i am retired military. retired in 1998 but i was a contractor. i went to afghanistan in 2009 to 2018. nine years i was there. the places i was stationed, tehran, kabul, they had burn pit. are there any agencies that will look out for the contractors? and mild conditions. i have severe sleep apnea and a tumor on my brain. it is not malignant or anything like that, but i am trying to see if there are services or agencies that look out for the contractor. guest: i am really sorry to hear that and thank you for your service. i think you're bringing up one
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of the things we don't talk nearly enough about and that is the extent to which the u.s. government used contractors in iraq and afghanistan and other places. unfortunately, you're getting the short end of the stick. this legislation would not help you. it is one of those where we need to hold our government contractors accountable for the things that they did and sent you to do. they are the ones that should be making sure you're taking care of. i wish i had a better response for you, but i appreciate you calling in. i hope you get the health care you deserve and you earned. as a country, it is something we are not talking about and that is the broad use of contractors throughout these engagements we relied on. the job would not have been able to have been done without contractors. host: let's talk to brian calling from michigan. good morning. caller: good morning.
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jeremy, thanks. i am a veteran up in a pristine land. we closed our air force base. you are going through the same problems with the department of defense. they polluted the finest, pristine lakes and rivers appear with peafoss for decades. we have cancer among citizens. we cannot use our well water and it is the same stall pact until the people died. furthermore, as a veteran the first thing i was assigned is a proper gas mask and how to use it. it was in my kit the whole time i was a veteran. it is the same thing at 9/11. you knock down buildings, you put cloth masks on people and you expect it to work. you have to spend the dough other real masks. you know what i'm talking about. guest: you are right.
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this is not something just a problem in overseas bases. you talked about the pollution happening in michigan. as i mentioned earlier, we talk about this legislation provides support for camp lejeune service members and veterans poisoned by tainted drinking water. we have the same issue in hawaii with the redhook refueling facility that the navy uses. we talked about agent orange. this is an ongoing problem where the u.s. government often through neglect, sometimes their willful ignorance, pollutes the areas where our service members and families are operating, playing, going to school. and when they are caught they deny responsibility. this is not something new. this happens overseas and it happens in the u.s. that is why we talk about toxic exposure.
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we are not just talking about burn pits but they are the biggest perpetrator in the post-9/11 era. there is so much more than needs to be addressed. that is why it is frustrating when you have members of congress voting against this. you could not have more evidence showing this is the right thing to do. showing the u.s. government is responsible for these injuries, yet they are still voting no. we have to keep up the fight. that is why this is important. not just for what it is covering but it brings attention to the fact this is happening not only overseas but on u.s. soil. host: one of our social media followers wants to go back further than vietnam and talk about the stuff her father encountered in korea. i want you to react to see if they qualify under the spell. -- this bill. my dad who fought lasting korea said they had burn pits but they did not burn 24 hours a day. they burned everything that could be reused by the koreans.
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i can only imagine with depleted uranium weapons we have today getting burned releases toxic illnesses. i have heard several talk about this morning on social media of depleted uranium weapons. can you talk about that and does this bill -- can this bill reach back to those who served in korea? guest: this bill would not reach back to korea, but it does reach back even farther than vietnam because it does address service members exposed to radiation when they were forced to clean up contaminated nuclear exit sites. this goes back to what we are saying. the bill unfortunately does not cover everybody, but i am glad we are talking about this because it shows the extremes to which these things happen on a regular basis. depleted uranium, building a base in uzbekistan for use in the early days of the wars in
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iraq and afghanistan, it was built on the top of soviet waste dumps and ammunition dumps and chemical munition facilities. these things we knew off the bat were going to make people sick. but because war was the top priority, we pushed on and we did it. the service members knew there was a risk but they wanted to get the job done. they deserve so much better than to have to fight as they are literally laying dying for the government to finally recognize what the problem here is. this goes back decades and decades and this legislation would finally bring some closure to some, but not all. i am glad you're talking about the korean war because it shows the breadth and depth of the government's responsibility for poisoning our service members. host: senator jon tester, who is the chair of the veterans affairs committee, came out to the senate floor last week to
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talk about our country's failures to address toxic exposures over the years. here's a potion of what senator chester had to say. [video clip] >> we have made some incredible advances as a country. when it comes to taking care of of service members when they get back home. the survival on the battlefield has been improved amazingly. prosthetics, we have done amazing work with prosthetics for the folks who have come back missing limbs. we have been working hard on mental health. we are not where we need to be but we are making advances. we have more to do in the area of transition and implementation of alternate forms of mental health care. but the fact is toxic exposure we have never done a good job. host: react to senator tester.
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guest: he is right. he has been an advocate and leader on this issue for a long time. edit it should be important to point out as has the ranking member of the senate v.a. committee, jerry moran of kansas. they worked to improve the bill that came from the house to make it better and stronger and together, they put forward bipartisan support. when it came out of the senate v.a. committee it had unanimous support. unfortunately, some members of the senate v.a. committee voted against it, senator sullivan, senator tillis, and senator cassidy. they voted against it in the closure vote and hopefully next week, if it comes to a floor vote, they will realize the error of their ways and vote yes to get passed. but it will have to go back to the house and we did not get that unanimous support from the house veterans affairs committees.
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incredibly shocking because myself and others from iava an military service border organization, we have testified before both committees countless times over the years about how important this issue is and how important this legislation is. we really need if anyone the v.a. house committee to drive us forward and making sure every member of their party votes yes. host: let's talk to jim calling from ashton, west virginia and served in iraq. good morning. caller: good morning. host: go ahead. caller: good morning. guest: good morning, jim. caller: morning. host: do you have a question? caller: good morning. can you hear me? host: can you hear us? caller: yes. host: go ahead, please.
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caller: what do you need? host: what is your question? caller: i was in iraq from 2004 to 2005 and we were within hundreds of yards of a burn pit that burned around-the-clock. and we was exposed to a lot of that smoke. later that fall we was exposed to oil being burned. they caught a pipeline on fire or something and it burned the whole duration. so, yeah, then burn pits -- them burn pits, they are out there and they used them the whole time we were deployed. guest: i am glad you called and mentioned that. one, you lending credence to the fact these were used so widely.
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but you're touching on something we did not talk about which is even outside the burn pits the other pollution service members were forced to deal with. the burning oil wells, the surrounding cities these u.s. bases were located at where they were burning trash and other things. the amount of toxins service members were exposed to during their time in service, it is unimaginable and you cannot quantify it because we do not know the extent of everything burned. so much was thrown in and it was done without any regard for what the effects might be. again, it was burned with jet fuel, something we already know causes cancer when you burn it and breathe in the fumes. the accelerant used is cancer-causing and it was the accelerant to burn a myriad of other things around-the-clock. the fact the government continues to deny responsibility is shocking. host: jeremy, until this
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legislation is passed and signed by the president, what should veterans who think they were affected by these burn pits do? where should they go? who should they talk to? guest: they need to be registering with the burn pit registry at the v.a. i know it is not the best website, but because -- especially now because we are on the cusp of hopefully -- and i don't want to count my chickens before they hatch -- but we are on the cost of passing legislation that will open the aperture for exposed veterans to get health care. the sooner they get on the registry the sooner the v.a. can get an understanding of how many have been exposed and are suffering from illnesses. that is a great start. i recommend that. two, be aware of any changes in your health care. be aware some things might be caused by your exposure overseas. that is something to make sure you are tracking as you go to
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your civilian provider or v.a. health care provider. finally, call your senators. we cannot underscore how important it is tomorrow, monday, tuesday, wednesday. contact your u.s. senator and called both of them. you can find email addresses and phone numbers. they need to hear from you and they need to hear from civilians that those senators must vote yes on this legislation. host: let's talk to howard from georgetown, texas. howard was deployed to iraq. good morning. caller: good morning. how are you? host: just fine. go ahead. caller: i was deployed to iraq three times. i was in the department of army civilians. is there anything being done to address our situation? guest: yeah. appreciate you calling in. similar to the contractor that called in, almost just as much
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as the service members who are over there you were over there directly employed by the u.s. government. and you are deserving of health care on your exposure. this legislation is focused on service members, but again, this goes back to how important it is we talk about this and make sure the government is aware of the need to take care of those it sent over to these countries to take care of us as a country to defend our freedom. that includes the civilians that work for the department of defense. there were so many that were exposed and more that needs to be done. this is a great first step but not everything. host: as we wrap up, tell us what we should be watching in the senate and the house and who we should be watching as this bill passes through? guest: keep an eye on the senate this upcoming week. we will hopefully get a full floor vote. it passed last week with broad
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bipartisan support. right now, the senate is debating amendments that have been proposed, none of which improve the bill. they would only weaken it. we need the senate to vote those down and vote yes on the pact act that 65 organizations sent letters saying vote yes. they need to send it back to the house. the house needs to pass it and send it to the president who said he will sign it. we could get this done this month if they move expeditiously and understand how important this is. if i could address the fact that it is also pride month. we need to be focusing on the unmet needs of so many more of our veterans and service members. we saw the breaking news yesterday and today about white nationalists looking to disrupt a pride parade. right now more than ever, but
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especially this month, and the fact it is pride, we need to pass the equality act and make sure that all service members, all americans that want to serve in this military are given the chance to serve. we have such a small percentage of our country that are willing and able to serve in our military and we need to make sure we are recruiting all of them and getting the best and brightest to do so. host: we would like to thank jeremy butler, ceo of the iraq and afghanistan veterans of america organization for coming on with us and talking with us about veterans health care and the effect of burn pits.
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