Sep 16, 2020 - Health

Jon Stewart: Congress giving vets sickened by toxic burn pits the "cold shoulder"

 Jon Stewart speaks at a press conference oat the House Triangle on September 15, 2020 in Washington, DC.

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" in Washington, DC. , on Tuesday. Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Jon Stewart noted on his return to Capitol Hill Tuesday that many veterans affected by exposure to toxic burn pits are suffering the same afflictions as first responders have since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Driving the news: The former "Daily Show" host who's campaigned for years for the continuation of the 9/11 compensation fund, including making a powerful speech in Congress last year, is advocating for a bill that would cover medical conditions associated with veterans' exposure to the pits during this century's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"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."

The big picture: "Burn pits were a common way to get rid of waste at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan," the Department of Veterans Affairs notes.

  • While the department states that "research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits," Stewart said at a news conference that jet fuel was used as an accelerant for the pits — a "common ingredient" in illnesses for both veterans and first responders.
  • Stewart told Fox News in an interview earlier Tuesday that the parallels between the conditions of the veterans and the 9/11 responders "are incredible."
  • "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," he said.
"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--t. ... It’s about money. And we're here today to say we’re not going to let this happen in the dark."
— Stewart's remarks at the news conference

Of note: The bill Stewart is backing, Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2020, is sponsored by Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who appeared alongside the comedian at the news conference.

  • Gillibrand compared the veterans' conditions to those exposed to the Agent Orange chemical during the Vietnam War, who were granted presumptive coverage after Congress acted in 1991.
  • "We have to do the same for the veterans of the war on terror," she said. "To put it simply, the bill says that if you were there you are covered. Plain and simple. This bill applies common sense and common decency to a very broken process."
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