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Jon Stewart accuses VA of being 'an obstacle' to burn pits medical care
Former "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart on Tuesday accused the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) of being "an obstacle" to providing medical coverage and care to service members who have developed illnesses from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In an interview on Fox News' "The Story with Martha MacCallum," Stewart, who has in recent years become increasingly involved in advocacy on behalf of veterans and 9/11 first responders, brought attention to the open air piles of burning trash and fuel that the VA estimates that more than three million service members have been exposed to.
"The damage was extensive," Stewart explained. "I think anybody who served in Iraq and Afghanistan had experience with them."
"They use jet fuel to ignite all the waste that may be on a base. And that includes human waste, hazardous waste, munitions, hazardous, you know, radiation like- it's this toxic brew and this thick black smoke that would pour over 24/7 the soldiers that lived there, slept there, ate there and were exposed," he added.
Stewart, who played an active role in pushing to make permanent the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, said that the health issues faced by veterans exposed to burn pits runs similar to the long-term health problems seen among first responders in the 9/11 attacks.
"You have constrictive bronchiolitis, you have pulmonary issues, you've got really rare cancers like Glioblastomas and pancreatic cancer in very young, healthy individuals," Stewart said. "You've got permanent nodules and lung damage, neuromuscular immune, you know, the whole gambit."
The comedian turned activist said, however, that the VA is not providing adequate medical care for these veterans.
The VA currently requires veterans to pay for tests to prove that their illness was a result of exposure to the burn pits, with advocates saying that many of the claims are denied.
"The VA exists to advocate for the veterans' care," Stewart said Tuesday. "They shouldn't be operating as an obstacle or as some sort of insurance company that has a barrier of entry to deny service-related diseases."
Stewart argued that, instead, veterans "need presumption of exposure, and they need to immediately be placed into a program that mirrors the 9/11 program, which has medical screenings that tend towards, what are the illnesses that come from these sorts of toxic exposures? And then they need the healthcare and benefits that come from the diseases."
"It's a simple program," he continued. "We already have the blueprint. It's going to come down to money. And my feeling about the money is, this is the cost of war. This is the total cost of war."
"You don't get to pay for one aspect of the war and not the other. You don't get to leave people hanging," he added.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) late last month unveiled bipartisan legislation that would give "presumptive" VA benefits "to servicemembers who have deployed and have illnesses due to exposure to burn pits and other toxins," thus removing the requirement for veterans to prove a link.