Sen. Marco Rubio teams up with NY Democrat to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits

Washington, D.C. Bureau

WASHINGTON D.C. (NEXSTAR) -Just six months ago, Susan Zeier was on Capitol Hill calling on Congress to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.

Zeier said her son-in-law was one of those veterans. He died last year from a rare form of lung cancer.

Zeier said the United States Department of Veterans Affairs denied and delayed benefits.

On Tuesday, Zeier was back on Capitol Hill asking lawmakers to listen.

“They’re not hearing our voices,” Zeier said.

But two bipartisan senators said they are listening.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer I mean we send people to serve our country we do so with the promise that we’re gonna take care of them when they get back,” Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said Tuesday.

Rubio (R-FL) and New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand are introducing a bill they believe would make it easier for victims to get help.

The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act would remove the “burden of proof” from the veteran to provide enough evidence to establish a direct service connection between their health condition and exposure.

“If you served anywhere in the war on terror and you’re sick you should be covered, and it should be that simple,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said Tuesday.

Now both Gillibrand and Rubio begin the work of bringing their colleagues on board and they’re getting the help of two, now, Capitol Hill regulars.

“It’s addressing almost criminal negligence on the part of the government. There’s an urgency to it. They can’t take the easy way out. They gotta give the benefit of the doubt that they’ve earned,” Jon Stewart, comedian and veterans advocate, said Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Stewart and 9/11 first responder John Feal are walking the halls of Congress once again after years of working to get a 9/11 healthcare bill passed.

Feal said this effort is different.

“With each piece of legislation that we’ve help get passed gives us that more juice to push these along a little faster,” Feal adding. “We need to do a better job… we can’t keep saying thank you for your service this has to change now.” 

One of the doors they knocked on Montana Democrat Jon Tester (D-MT). Tester said he is on board and wants to help get the bill passed this year.

“That’s the goal. This Congress,” Tester said Tuesday.

The lawmakers leading similar bills have yet to sign on their support.

North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) has his own bill called the “TEAM Act.”

Tillis’ Press Secretary Adam Webb said in a statement Tuesday: “Addressing toxic exposure needs to be one of nation’s top priorities in caring for our veterans, and Senator Tillis has had excellent conversations with Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran about moving the ball forward. The TEAM Act is a landmark reform bill that will improve health care and benefits for veterans of all eras and exposures and has the support of more than 30 VSOs, and we have the bipartisan momentum needed to make major progress. I’m confident we will get a bill to the President’s desk this Congress.”

Tillis has said he recognized a lot of bills have been introduced to address toxic exposure. He has said he looks forward to working on bipartisan legislation that includes provisions from many of these proposals that can pass Congress and get signed into law.

Discussions with the White House are ongoing. President Biden has yet to publicly support the bill but Gillibrand believes he will sign this bill if it makes it to his desk.

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