In this week’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, IAVA was pleased to see two significant pieces of legislation receive some critical attention, the Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act (S. 2487) and the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act (S. 2679). Both bills will have a meaningful impact on the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been coping with mental health trauma and who have been exposed to deadly toxins from burn pits.
The Female Suicide Prevention Act, sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) would improve and expand upon mental health and suicide prevention programs for women veterans experiencing physical or mental trauma from their time in service. Eighty-percent of IAVA survey takers do not think troops and veterans are getting the mental health care they need. This is almost certainly likely for women vets. Last year, a VA study found that female veterans commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of non-veteran women. Sen. Boxer’s legislation will require the VA to:
include specific metrics on female veterans in its annual evaluation of mental and suicide prevention programs
identify which programs are the most effective and have the highest approval rating among female veterans.
Burn pits have been a common tool used by the U.S. military to dispose of waste and have been used at many military installations across Iraq and Afghanistan. Items such as old batteries, aerosol cans, tires, dead animals, and even human waste, were all thrown into these open pits. Today, many of these veterans are facing major health complications when returning home from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, due to toxic exposures in burn pits.
According to IAVA’s 7th Annual Member Survey data, of those exposed to burn pits during deployment, 60 percent feel they have symptoms associated with burn pit exposure. Their ailments include cancer, neurological effects, respiratory toxicity, reproductive effects, and other sicknesses. Senator Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act will create a center of excellence within the VA in the prevention, treatment, diagnosis, mitigation, and rehabilitation of health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits.
Veterans dealing with health complications due to toxic exposure to burn pits and those contemplating suicide due to physical or mental trauma, should be provided the best care and resources they deserve. Today, there are over 2 million women veterans in the US and there are over 65,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that have begun the process of tracking their symptoms with the VA’s burn pit registry. These numbers are growing and it is up to the VA and Congress to put aside politics and partisanship and pass legislation that will profoundly improve the lives of our veterans.