Jon Stewart accuses Congress of abandoning veterans who inhaled toxic fumes from burn pits

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Jon Stewart accused Congress of giving the ‘cold shoulder’ to nearly 200,000 veterans who claim their health was compromised after they inhaled toxic fumes from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The former ‘Daily Show’ host, 57, alleged that the veterans ‘have been injured by the United States’ through their exposure to the crude incineration practice that burned waste, hazardous material and chemical compounds at military sites overseas.  

On Tuesday, Stewart held a press conference alongside Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz of California, former VA Secretary David Shulkin, and John Feal, a veterans advocate, to push the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2020. 

Stewart previously successfully battled for a bill to aid first responders who became sick as a result of their work during 9/11 and said that the veterans’ health concerns with burn pits have parallels.  

Comedian, writer and veterans advocate Jon Stewart speaks at a press conference on 'The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2020'

Comedian, writer and veterans advocate Jon Stewart speaks at a press conference on ‘The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2020’

The phrase 'burn pit' refers to an area of a deployed military base devoted to open-air burning of waste often using jet fuel as an accelerant. Pictured, a burn-pit in Afghanistan in 2013

The phrase ‘burn pit’ refers to an area of a deployed military base devoted to open-air burning of waste often using jet fuel as an accelerant. Pictured, a burn-pit in Afghanistan in 2013

‘Welcome to another exciting episode of “When is America going to start acting like the great country we keep telling ourselves we are?”‘ Stewart told the press conference, according to CNN

‘Our veterans lived 24 hours a day, seven days a week next to toxic smoke, dioxins — everything. And now they’re being told, “Hey man, is that stuff bad for you? I don’t know we don’t have the science.” It’s bulls***. It’s bulls***. It’s about money.

‘And we’re here today to say we’re not going to let this happen in the dark,’ he added. 

Stewart’s fight for the 9/11 first responders aided the passing of a bill that pays for their healthcare until 2092. 

The comedian on Tuesday said that the jet fuel used to accelerate the burning at the pits was an common ingredient in damaging the health of veterans and first reponders in both cases. 

He added that the fire pits burned constantly and were sometimes as large as ten acres.

‘When it was done, we thought it was done,’ Stewart said. 

‘But it turns out that the warfighters that were sent to prosecute the battle based on the attack on 9/11 now suffer the same injuries and illnesses that the first responders suffer from, and they’re getting the same cold shoulder from Congress that they received. And so the fight starts again.’ 

In an earlier interview with Fox News’ Investigative Unit, Stewart claimed that ‘the only difference between what happened with the 9/11 community and what’s happening with the veteran community is the 9/11 community was injured by toxic exposure from an enemy attack’.  

A U.S. Army soldier watches bottled water that had gone bad burn in a burn-pit at Forward Operating Base Azzizulah in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, in 2013

A U.S. Army soldier watches bottled water that had gone bad burn in a burn-pit at Forward Operating Base Azzizulah in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, in 2013

Pictured, a burn pit in Afghanistan. It is estimated that nearly 200,000 veterans could have been exposed to toxic fumes from the pits that has affected their health

Pictured, a burn pit in Afghanistan. It is estimated that nearly 200,000 veterans could have been exposed to toxic fumes from the pits that has affected their health

‘The veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have been injured by the United States. We did this to ourselves. The smoke, the toxins, those pits were dug by contractors hired by the DOD. They knew about it. Their own reporting, internal reporting, shows the air quality, shows the variety of toxins,’ he said. 

If passed, the new bill will list burn pit exposure as a presumptive condition for any service member who fought in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would establish a new list of diseases including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cancers of any type that could have resulted from a veteran’s service. 

It would also require the Department of Veterans Affairs [VA] to provide health and disability services to Global War on Terror (GWOT) veterans as a result of the exposure. 

‘I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist. But, I’m also not an idiot. If you live next to a toxic smoke plume filled with cancer-causing elements, and you’re breathing it in day in and day out, it’s going to make you sick,’ Stewart told Fox. 

‘Then, you’re going to get home and people are going to tell you, just like they did with the 9/11 community, first, “It’s in your head, you’re not really sick.” Second, “OK, maybe you’re sick, but had nothing to do with what that was”. And thirdly, they’re going to say, “OK, it is, but I don’t know if we can afford all that”,’ he added. 

Jon Stewart is lobbying Congress to now aid the affected veterans. Pictured, Stewart addressing the press on Tuesday alongside the organization Burn Pits 360

Jon Stewart is lobbying Congress to now aid the affected veterans. Pictured, Stewart addressing the press on Tuesday alongside the organization Burn Pits 360

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., pictured Tuesday, is also lobbying for the new bill

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., pictured Tuesday, is also lobbying for the new bill

‘You know, this is money. That’s it. And, when you’ve got an F-35 that may never be battle-ready and it’s going to be a cost overrun of about $1.4 trillion, and you’re gas-lighting your own veterans on their health conditions because you don’t want to pay for it? Criminal, and it has to stop,’ he continued. 

According to Fox, soldiers have said that the burn pits were used to get rid of all types of waste, including plastics, batteries, appliances, medicine, dead animals and even human waste.

Jet fuel was often used to speed up the process and the pits could burn more than 1,000 different chemical compounds day and night. 

Service members were left without protection from the toxic fumes that constantly raged close by. 

Stewart is now working with the organization Burn Pits 360, founded by Rosie Torres, whose husband Le Roy became ill after he returned home from service. 

They claim that the VA has done nothing to aid the ill veterans. 

‘Facing the system of delay and deny and meeting all of these other families that were experiencing the same lack of health care and lack of answers… it became just such an insane rollercoaster,’ Torres told Fox News. 

‘Immediately after discovering that there was this whole other online community of people that were sort of scratching their heads and saying, “I wonder why my loved one died? I wonder why my husband or wife are also suffering from these symptoms”.’ 

‘At the same time of us dealing with job loss, and houses being foreclosed, and marriages being crushed… suicides. It’s just such a unique situation. Right? Where I’ve, beside the 9/11 community, hadn’t really heard of.’

The organization’s website tells the stories of other veterans who believe their illness was caused by the burn pits. 

‘When I was told I had a progressive, untreatable lung disease due to toxic exposure from my deployment during Operation Enduring Freedom; I went from being a physically fit person to having to give up my career as a police officer,’ states Spc Cindy Aman.  

‘Instead of giving up, I started listening to and reading about the thousands of other veterans who are suffering. There is no reason to wait decades to provide the care and treatment needed. 

‘These people who put their lives on the line to fight for our country held up their end of their promise no questions asked,’ she adds. 

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