WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Thousands of veterans are waiting for help this Veterans Day after being exposed to toxic burn pits and having disability claims denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But veterans advocates and lawmakers on Capitol Hill aren’t taking no for an answer.
Comedian Jon Stewart is among those advocates. Due to the pandemic, his latest push to support veterans is happening virtually.
“There really is an urgency to it,” Stewart said.
Stewart recently worked with John Feal, a 9/11 first responder and veterans advocate, to secure funding for 9/11 first responders.
They are now helping victims of toxic burn pits who are facing barriers to VA benefits.
“This is not normal,” Feal said Wednesday.
“The VA should be acting on behalf of the veterans, not as an obstacle to them getting care,” Stewart added.
The VA says, “all veterans of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom are eligible for five years of free VA health care regardless of service connection.”
But in the last 13 years, 78% of disability claims related to toxic exposure have been rejected by the VA.
“They’ve been denied routinely,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said.
Gillibrand introduced legislation to make it easier for victims to get VA benefits.
Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina has his own separate legislation to create an independent commission to investigate allegations of toxic exposure from troops and veterans.
“What we need is not a study or discretion, what we need is presumptive benefit,” Gillibrand said.
She said she is working to get her legislation passed before the end of the year. If it doesn’t, Feal and Stewart said they’ll be back.
“It’s gonna take everybody, everybody,” Feal said.
“We always have our eye on what the goal is,” Stewart added.
You can learn more information on Stewart and Feal’s efforts
For more information on Stewart and Feal’s efforts, you can visit the Military Toxic Exposure Coalition website.