The comedian joined members of both political parties on Tuesday to fight for legislation that would allow easier access to Veterans Affairs benefits for these service members. As of now, veterans suffering from diseases like cancer that are thought to be linked to toxic fumes from burn pits have to pay for tests to prove that connection in order to receive benefits, and, according to veterans advocates, the majority of claims are denied.
“For those that have fought and defended and served this country, for them to come home and have to fight against the very government that they volunteered to defend is immoral,” Stewart said.
Stewart made the comments as he was flanked by a bipartition group of lawmakers including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who pushed for passage of the bill called the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act.
More than three million U.S. veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been exposed to the toxic burning pits where, according to CBS News, military bases used jet fuel to ignite and dispose of waste.
“It’s unconscionable, and it’s easily remedied,” Stewart said. “And they don’t need to be put through another bureaucratic process and another clerical process. They don’t need another study to determine whether or not it might not be that healthy to burn everything in sight 24-hours a day, seven days a week, next to where you’re sleeping. We know it because you’re not allowed to do it in the United States of America.”
Stewart is right. According to a 2019 Department of Defense report, the U.S. has all but eliminated the practice.
President Joe Biden has spoken about burn pit exposure before, saying that they may be connected to his son’s brain cancer. The president’s son Beau served in Iraq and died in 2015 of glioblastoma brain cancer.
“My son did a year in Iraq. He came home. We lost him, but he came home and one of the things we should be looking at is those burn pits that are there,” Biden told CNN in 2019. “It’s just like, you know, when all the firemen in New York went down to 9/11 and so many got cancer, and particularly brain cancer. Well, that’s what’s happening.”
Biden continued, “More people are coming home from Iraq with brain cancer than ever before, than any other war. And we’re in a situation where there’s a direct connection between those burn pits and taking in all that toxin that’s available. And we should say, anybody who was anywhere near those burn pits, that’s all they have to show and they get covered, they get all their health care covered.”
Although the cost of the bill to provide benefits to these veterans is not yet known—the bill’s cost is currently being calculated by the Congressional Budget Office—Gillibrand emphasized at the press conference that money should not matter when it comes to caring for those who have served our country in war.
“Whatever it is, we should pay for it,” she said. “And make people well aware that this is the cost of war.”