WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Comedian Jon Stewart and other veteran advocates were back on Capitol Hill Wednesday, fighting for benefits for veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits while they were serving.
There are several different bills in Congress working to address the toxic exposure issue. What lawmakers are trying to do is bring them all together in an effort to get it passed much sooner because, for veterans suffering from exposure, time isn’t on their side.
Stewart has spent the last year urging lawmakers to pass comprehensive legislation that ensures veterans who were exposed to toxic substances while serving their country get help when they return.
“Welcome to another exciting episode of when is America gonna start acting like the great country we keep telling ourselves we are?” the comedian previously said.
Stewart and 9/11 first responder John Feal, along with other veterans groups, joined House lawmakers on Wednesday to unveil a bill that would remove the burden of proof from veterans. That would mean they don’t have to prove they were exposed to a toxic substance while serving.
The Committee on Veterans’ Affairs says the bill “makes good on our promise to care for all veterans exposed to toxic substances.”
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who is leading one of the other bills moving through the Senate to address the issue, says “we owe it to [veterans] to not repeat the mistake of Agent Orange.”
“We talked about how all these pieces of the puzzle fit together but we’ve also gotta be judicious so that we don’t reach a point where we lose support purely on the financial impact,” Tillis said.
Stewart and Feal addressed financial concerns in relation to the issue on Wednesday.
“I remember when they said the same thing about the cost of the war, they all said, ‘no, this is too much, we can’t’ – oh wait, no they didn’t,” Stewart said. “They spent whatever they needed to spend to get it done and this is part of the total cost of that.”
Stewart calls the exposure to burn pits the consequence of “prosecuting a 20-year war.”
“You can’t line-item veto it because you think that the consequence is too high,” he said. “That should’ve been in your budget and don’t use your budgeting error against the men and women who fought the war.”
The two men also addressed pushback the bill has already received.
“We’re used to pushback. We push back harder,” Feal said.
“We’re going to ensure that legislation’s passed that helps as many people as possible,” he added. “That’s what it’s all about – helping those who protected us in harm’s way 24/7. If we can’t do that, we fail as human beings.”