The following is an op-ed submitted by Dr. Pat Van Keuren, author of The School Poisoning Tragedy in Caledonia, Ohio. It is shared without edit.
An opening exists for more inclusivity in the Burn Pits Bill H.R. 2372 which streamlines the process for obtaining VA benefits for burn pits and other toxic waste exposures. The bill is directed at those service members who were exposed to contaminates, especially in burn pits, where diseases appear years later because a latency period exists before disease detection.
So, what kind of federal healthcare aid is available for citizens who have been exposed to toxic waste sites across the country leading to diseases? The answer is NONE! More needs to be done to address the healthcare issues of our citizenry who were exposed to toxic waste sites and then later in life leading to diseases, especially at military and other federal contaminated sites.
In my recent book, The School Poisoning Tragedy in Caledonia, Ohio, I trace the history of a school district that built in the early1960’s on top of a military toxic waste site where the governmental agencies were limited in identifying of eventual removal of the contaminates from the school grounds without consideration of the negative impact on the health and welfare of the students who incurred a high rate of leukemia and other cancers in the graduates.
A United States Corps of Engineers spokesperson in 2001 stated:
Twenty years later we are still at the same starting point.
In my research I came across testimony of former students of the school district where they related their experiences as to what they believed to be a contaminated school setting by stating: “We were running in a toxic soup and didn’t even know it” and another student said “I remember there was always a wet spot on the back of the field we ran through with wet socks and shoes.”
The students go on to tell their stories of hardship and pain that they endured because of the toxic chemicals they encountered on the school grounds. The frustration of paying for the healthcare of these afflicted students was seen when a father searched for lawyers to sue government agencies because he believed his son’s brain tumor was caused by the school districts’ contaminated grounds, only to be told by the lawyers that it would be too difficult to fight the government in court.
Why not amend H.R. 2372 to provide an avenue to include an inclusive healthcare aid approach not only for military personnel, but for the first time for non-military citizens who have diseases linked to toxic waste sites. Let’s move beyond the starting point and take an inclusive healthcare aid approach for all citizens.
The obvious barrier to an inclusive healthcare aid program has been the documentation of an environmental exposure which is difficult to prove because the requirements often focus on specific time, place and level of exposure. H.R. 2372 recognizes how difficult it is to provide this kind of burden of proof and thus asks the veteran to submit documentation that they suffer from a qualifying health condition due to their service time associated with the Global War on Terror or the Gulf War so why not include a similar approach for civilians?
The real barrier to a comprehensive approach is whether or not Congress is willing to allocate the funds to provide remuneration to civilians that were exposed to toxic waste much like what they are doing for the veterans in H.R. 2372
An inclusive H.R. 2372 would allow for compensation of civilian diseases resulting from environmental exposure, which would then eliminate the cumbersome tort process, expense and time incurred by the afflicted individuals pursuing restitution. As it stands now, the only solution for nonmilitary personnel is a remedy through the court system, which has deterred many potential plaintiffs from challenging the government bureaucracy. Even if pursued, the litigious road is an expensive time-consuming one that often leaves the plaintiffs with large debts and no solutions.
Congress Act Now!
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