WASHINGTON — Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart returned to Washington D.C., Tuesday to lobby Congress on behalf of veterans and the families impacted by burn pits.

Stewart compares the smoke from burn pits to the toxins released during 9/11. He is advocating for the passage of a new bill, the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2020.

What You Need To Know

  • Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart returned to Washington to lobby Congress on behalf of veterans impacted by burn pits

  • Stewart compares the smoke from burn pits to the toxins released during 9/11

  • A new bill, introduced by Rep. Ruiz, would allow veterans to only submit evidence of deployment to one of the 34 countries listed in the bill

  • Rosie Torres said her husband fell ill due to burn pits exposure, and ten years later is still fighting for health benefits

The bill would grant presumptive health benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits during their time in the military. Veterans would only need to submit evidence of deployment to one of the 34 countries in the bill, or show they received a service-medal associated with the Global War on Terror or the Gulf War.

At a media conference, one widow cried for her husband, and another said, “America poisoned its soldiers.”

They joined other advocates, veterans, and family members like Rosie Torres, a mother of three and the wife of U.S. Army Captain Le Roy Torres who served 23 years.

During Capt. Torres’ deployment to Iraq, between 2007 and 2008, he was exposed to burn pits as large as 10 acres wide, which incinerated anything from jet fuel to amputated body parts, according to Rosie.

In 2008, Capt. Torres was medically boarded due to lung disease.

“He was deployed as a reservist. Came back with respiratory issues and was told by the VA he had a somatoform disease,” Rosie said.

Doctors later diagnosed Capt. Torres with fibrosis, constrictive bronchitis, toxic brain injury, and autoimmune disease.

Rosie said while the Army Reserves recognized his injuries, the VA and DOD didn’t offer specialized services.

“That’s ridiculous,” Rosie said. “How are you going to turn your back on our warfighters and our widows?”

Congressman Raul Ruiz, D-36 – who is also a Palm Desert doctor – introduced a bill to remove the “burden of proof” on veterans.

The bill would grant benefits to veterans who can show they were deployed to certain countries named in the bill instead of full evidence to establish a direct connection between their health condition and exposure. Rep. Ruiz said there are hundreds of thousands of military members who may be affected.

“Burn pits are our generation’s Agent Orange,” Ruiz said. “We cannot wait or delay or deny because we have veterans who are dying of cancer and lung diseases and suffering to we need to make sure we change our laws with our bill so that they can get the medical care and the assistance that they need and we need to end the use of burn pits and prevent any toxic exposures moving forward.”

Rep. Ruiz first got involved with the fight against burn pits when one of his constituents who was a mother of two, and a veteran, died after exposure during her time in the service. Ruiz said he was by her bedside when she passed. Since then he has worked on bills that would improve the burn pits registry and require the DOD to conduct a feasibility study on phasing out the use of burn pits, among other bills.

Stewart compared burn pit health deterioration to 9/11, which reflected the last bill he successfully helped pass through Congress into law. 

“The only difference between the first responders at ground zero who are sick and dying from toxic exposure is that that was caused by a terrorist attack on our country,” Stewart said.

He blamed the only reason this bill wouldn’t pass is about “money.”

Rosie said after no one would help their family when her husband was getting sick. The family depleted their lives savings for his treatment. Now after ten years of fighting, she’s finally seeing movement in her fight for health benefits for veterans who have been exposed to burn pits.

“It’s just the beginning even though it’s been ten years,” Rosie said.

Rosie’s son also joined the military, and she’s worried about her son’s safety and health.

Rosie started an organization called Burn Pits 360. On it, there’s a global registry to hear from other veterans who have been exposed to burn pits.

Rosie said she found similar health issues across the board from people exposed to burn pits.

You can fill out their registry or find out more at burnpits360.org.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Rosie said the Army Reserves were not recognizing his injuries. The error has been corrected. (Sept. 17, 2020)