U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren is joining a bipartisan effort to help veterans who might have been sickened by burn pits.
Hultgren, R-Plano, is throwing his support behind the Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Act of 2018, an effort to allow chronically ill veterans access to medical care and disability compensation benefits.
Local veterans gathered Friday at McHenry County College for an informational meeting hosted by Hultgren's district representative, Craig Genteman. Hultgren was in the nation's capital for the late Sen. John McCain's funeral.
"It recognizes the issues veterans are facing," Genteman said of the act, adding that he believes it "will take some time" to pass. "It's a fire pit, and you throw anything in there, throw a ton of diesel on it, and light it on fire."
He said burn pits were used to get rid of classified information and technology that could fall into enemy hands.
"It's been around for a long time," he said, adding that he believes most illnesses are related to the respiratory system. "It's feeling like you constantly have a sinus infection and shortness of breath."
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs does not recognize toxic burn pit exposure as a contributing factor to the development of the illnesses these veterans face, according to a statement from U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida, who introduced the bill.
The VA created a database of exposed veterans to study whether there is a connection between exposure and certain illnesses. If passed, this legislation would provide a presumption of service and exposure to toxic burn pits.
“It is not a coincidence that so many of the exposed veterans are all suffering from the same diseases," Bilirakis said in a statement.
The bill also would establish the Open Burn Pit Advisory Commission, an independent body to be tasked with gathering the medical and scientific data necessary to make recommendations for burn pit-related maladies.
“Our government has a responsibility to provide veterans and service members exposed to burn pits with the care and benefits they need now, not 20 years from now,” U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-California, said in a statement. He co-sponsored the bill.
Victor Somoza, a veterans service officer with the Veterans Assistance Commission of McHenry County, said he suffers from asthma he said was caused by burn pits while serving in Afghanistan.
"I see veterans every day, and a lot of them are experiencing respiratory illnesses," Somoza said.