KUSA – Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) tells 9Wants to Know she believes evidence is mounting that open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to long-term health problems of men and women who served next to the pits.
Rep. DeGette has voiced concerns over the military's practice of waste burning for years. Thursday, she told 9Wants to Know investigator Chris Vanderveen she remains even more convinced of the need to study the issue even further.
"I think the evidence is quite strong to sow there is a long-term health detriment from these burn pits, but obviously we need to get more information," she said during a phone interview.
"Listening to how veterans describe these burn pits, you can see how it can be a detriment to their health," she said.
Wednesday, Vanderveen introduced viewers to the story of Sean Terry. The 33-year old father of three passed away from esophageal cancer on Saturday after a seven-month long battle. Terry served with the Marines between 2001 and 2005, and fought in the Fallujah area in 2005.
National statistics show less than one percent of people who are diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus are under the age of 35. Terry's friends and family remain concerned his time spent serving next to burn pits might have contributed to his death.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has repeatedly stated it cannot find any direct link between burn pits and long-term health problems, yet it routinely screens incoming veterans on such things as proximity to burn pits during military service.
Rep. DeGette has tried to push legislation that would fund three "centers of excellence" around the country to deal with "prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment and rehabilitation of health conditions relating to exposure to open burn pits." The legislation remains stalled.
In addition, last year Congress ordered the VA to introduce a "burn pit registry" to start collecting evidence from veterans across the country. Three months after the deadline, the registry has yet to go online.
Rep. DeGette said she was made aware of Terry's story this week. "I send my condolences to this family," she said.
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