BILLINGS - U.S. Sen. Jon Tester touted his bill aimed at helping veterans get better and quicker medical care during a stop in Billings on Friday.
The bill focuses on veterans exposed to toxic trash fires, but it could help all veterans, Tester said at a gathering at VFW Post 6774 in Billings.
"We've got about 100,000 veterans in the state of Montana and potentially 66,000 of them could be exposed to toxins, toxic exposure," Tester said. "That tells you that just about every veteran you meet on the street, which is one in 10 people is going to potentially have some exposure. That means you've got to deal with the issue."
The bill is called the "Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act." Sgt. Robinson died in 2020 after toxic exposure during deployments to Kosovo and Iraq.
The bill recognizes 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions.
Until the mid-2010s, trash was commonly burned on military bases, because there is no landfill. The trash included items that produced dangerous toxic smoke like plastics, rubber, chemical mixtures, and even medical waste.
The troops were exposed to smoke from those burning materials, and the Department of Defense now estimates nearly 3.5 million troops from recent wars may have suffered exposure that led to cancers and serious respiratory illnesses.
"The oil companies lit the fires as far as the oil goes, but yeah, there was usually, it was some guy that was put on on KP that would have to go light the fires," said Randy Stiles, VFW Post 6774 commander. "You know they usually start with like kerosene or diesel and then kind of threw stuff in there to keep it going no matter what it was paper plastic, medical waste all that stuff."
Stiles served in Iraq and says the bill if passed, it would make it easier for veterans to show they were exposed to toxins while serving.