During a recent Washington Post Live event, hosted by columnist David Ignatius, Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) Government Affairs Director Derek Fronabarger joined toxic exposure activist and comedian Jon Stewart to discuss toxic exposure, burn pits, and the challenges that ill and injured veterans face when it comes to receiving treatment.
“You’ve got thousands of veterans and their families, once again returning from war, facing a tremendous health crisis due to toxic exposures or traumatic brain injuries and having to battle their own government to get their conditions recognized,” Stewart said.
“There’s a misperception in the general public that if you’re a veteran, you have VA health care, and that’s not the case,” Fronabarger said. “There is a very complex formula to get into a VA hospital and receive treatment. The difficulty with rare illnesses and toxic exposures is that you have individuals who are around burn pits for a year, who will come home and try to receive benefits, but they were also a smoker. A lot of individuals are being denied access to health care because of those barriers. What we’re really pushing for is, while we’re looking at the compensation process and looking at the costs, we need to get health care to veterans.”
During the discussion, Stewart talked about his support for the Toxic Exposures in the American Military (TEAM) Coalition, which includes more than 30 military and veteran service organizations and experts. The group collectively gathers data, promotes research, and drafts legislation on the impact of toxic exposures on those who have become ill as the result of their military service.
“What TEAM is presenting now is a stop-gap, and it will help save lives until we get what we need, which is presumption of care,” Stewart said. “If you can’t take care of those who are injured and facing health issues, if you’re going to make them fight wars, but then come back home and have to fight for their lives and health care, that’s a model that has to change.”
Stewart also pushed back against the argument that the science isn’t where it needs to be when it comes determining treatment, care, and origin of illnesses relating to toxic exposure, citing his own experiences advocating for 9/11 first responders and survivors.
“We have nearly 20 years of science on what these toxic exposures did to the lungs and organs of the first responders and survivors of 9/11,” Stewart said. “We have the science; we deny them their benefits because of the cost. If we have the money to go to war, we have got to make sure we have the money to take care of them when they come home.”