ATLANTA — A new bi-partisan bill could expand care and coverage to help millions of veterans who are suffering from toxic exposure to burn pits over the last few decades while serving overseas. H.R. 3967 could reach final passage in the Senate this week and veterans like Jeff Danovich said this support is long overdue.
“The most putrid, burning smell that you would ever imagine that’s what it would smell like,” Army Sergeant Jeff Danovich said, who served in Mosul in 2004. Danovich said they lived just 100 yards away from the burn pit, where they would burn everything from trash and tires to human waste.
“They said, 'there's no danger to breathing all this stuff in– don’t worry about it,'” Danovich said.
Then, two years ago, Danovich was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.
“I filed an appeal to the VA for disability and was turned down immediately,” he said.
Veterans Benefits expert Carlissa Carson said Danivich’s experience is unfortunately very common.
“The VA denied about 75 percent of disability claims based on burn pit exposure,” Carson said.
However, a new bi-partisan bill could expand that care and coverage. The covered health conditions went from three to nine, and this bill would add 20 more.
“If they suffer from a condition on this list, then they will benefit from presumed service connection– a lot easier to get VA benefits and compensation,” Carson said.
While Leukemia is not one of the covered cancers on the list right now, Carson said that could change.
“There will be ongoing research, so in other words, we won't come out with a short list and be done– we'll be able to add conditions to the list as research is done,” Carson said.
So while Danovich’s fight is not over, he said this bill could bring many who served, closer to care.
"I’m very pleased that they’ve made progress, but there’s more progress to be made, “ Danovich said.
Carson said the bill will also help those who were exposed to other toxins like radiation and agent orange.