For nearly two decades, post-9/11 veterans have been exposed to contaminants such as burn pits, toxic fragments, radiation, and other hazardous materials on deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and elsewhere. Now, many of them are experiencing severe, rare, and early-onset health conditions. Since these illnesses often do not manifest until years after discharge, many veterans struggle to obtain health care and benefits from the Department of Affairs (VA) in connection with these conditions.
“Wounded Warrior Project believes that veterans of all eras who suffer from toxic exposures deserve access to lifesaving health care and a system that requires VA to respond to scientific data in a timely, transparent manner,” said Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) CEO Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Mike Linnington. “We can and must honor the service and sacrifice of our nation’s warriors by working with Congress to provide the necessary care and resources to help those suffering from these wounds of war.”
WWP is committed to addressing veterans’ toxic wounds veterans as urgently as we address other physical and invisible wounds of war. Guided by feedback gathered in our 2020 Annual Warrior Survey, we have identified toxic exposure as a priority to address with Congress. The survey data showed 89% of survey respondents indicated they were “definitely or probably” exposed to toxic substances during their military service. Of those, 98% report one or more symptoms or illnesses related to those exposures. The largest sources of exposure were burn pits (85.7%); sand, dust, and particles (75.5%); occupational hazards such as solvents and asbestos (43.7%); pesticides (30.3%); and depleted uranium (20.3%).
While WWP survey data provides an overview of how toxic exposures affect the population we serve, it does not capture the individual challenges that exposed warriors face daily. They struggle with health problems associated with their severe illnesses. Their health struggles are compounded by policies that often make it difficult for them to access the health care and benefits they desperately need. Some of these warriors chose to share their stories under pseudonyms to protect their identities:
Key Bills to Support Veterans Affected by Toxic Exposure
Because the primary issue with toxic exposures is proving eligibility, WWP is supporting legislation that will reform existing policies and improve access to care and eligibility criteria. These key pieces of legislation, supported by numerous members of Congress, other veterans service organizations, and WWP, include:
S.927 / H.R.2127 TEAM Act
S.952 / H.R.2372 Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act
S.437 / H.R.2436 Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act
WWP continues working with the TEAM Coalition, a group of over 30 military and veteran service organizations and experts, to collectively gather data, raise awareness, promote research, and advocate for legislation addressing the impact of toxic exposures on those who have been made ill as the result of their military service.
“Effectively addressing toxic exposure will take the combined efforts of warriors who engage with us through our advocacy efforts, our allies in the military and veteran community, and our nation’s leaders,” Linnington said. “We’re confident that we can ensure the next generation of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances are not starting from square one like each generation before them.”
Contact: Mattison Brooks — Communications Specialist firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.969.1120
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.