J. Marc Burgess, National Adjutant
The time to act
For generations, veterans have returned home from the military unaware of the invisible damage inflicted on their bodies. Diseases and illnesses—cancers, respiratory conditions, skin ailments and more—have become their new battleground in a war far outlasting anything they fought in service.
I’m talking, of course, about those individuals affected by toxic exposures.
Today, we largely focus on burn pits and chronic issues caused by inhalation of foreign particulate matter and on what this will mean for the 3.5 million veterans the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates have been exposed. But the fact that we are having this conversation—and worse, that there remains such a struggle to get these veterans the health care and benefits they need—lies at the heart of the problem.
We are talking about it now because nothing was done over the span of decades to properly address how the VA handles illnesses that stem from toxic exposures throughout the span of military history.
Mustard gas. Atmospheric nuclear testing. Ionizing radiation. Agent Orange. Depleted uranium. Chemical weapons. Airborne hazards. Contaminated water. Fuels and solvents. The list goes on, and yet nothing has been done, generation after generation, to create a system in which exposed veterans do not have to wage an exhaustive war to prove their conditions should qualify them for VA health care while they simultaneously fight for their lives.
This must end now, before the same fate befalls one more generation of veterans.
In late April, at our national headquarters in Erlanger, Kentucky, we rallied together with our fellow veteran and military service organizations, comedian Jon Stewart and affected veterans to support the Honoring Our PACT Act. That same week, President Joe Biden affirmed his commitment to this issue, stating that if bipartisan legislation is brought to his desk, he will sign it.
It is not a simple fix, but we have momentum and we have an obligation.
DAV has continued pressing for justice on behalf of toxic-exposed veterans, and we will not stop until we end this seemingly perpetual cycle in which veterans are first made ill in the line of duty and then forced to fight for the health care and benefits they so desperately need.
If you want to find out more about the National Adjutant, you can find his biography here.