Get smarter, faster. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.
Jon Stewart: Congress is abandoning veterans exposed to toxic 'burn pits'
Stewart is supporting a new bill that aims to extend health care and disability benefits to veterans who served alongside burn pits.
- Thousands of American veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to burn pits, which may have caused diseases like asthma and cancer.
- Burn pits were used as a crude way to dispose of waste, including plastics, body parts, dead animals, and hazardous chemicals.
- Despite gaps in the research linking exposure to medical conditions, advocates say the benefit of the doubt should go to veterans.
Plastics, medical waste, rubber, hazardous chemicals, human feces, batteries, dead animals, and amputated limbs.
These are some of the things that were routinely doused in jet fuel and set ablaze in massive "burn pits" near U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some pits burned more than 140 tons of trash a day, launching into the sky thick plumes of smoke visible from miles away.
For more than a decade, thousands of American soldiers who served next to these pits have developed serious medical conditions, such as asthma or cancer, that may have been caused by inhaling toxic fumes. Some veterans have filed disability claims, but the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied most.
One reason is that it's hard for veterans to establish causation: How do they know their illness wasn't caused by something else, like inhaling dust and sand from the desert? And, can veterans prove they were next to specific burn pits on specific dates?
Some veterans advocates say it's unjust to place such a high burden of proof on veterans in need of medical care. Or, as comedian and advocate Jon Stewart said Tuesday at an event on Capitol Hill, "It's bullshit."
Jon Stewart introduces bill for sick veterans: ’Welcome to another exciting episode of ‘When is America going to st… https://t.co/Fm8Ix0qRJK— NowThis (@NowThis)1600177340.0
"Welcome to another exciting episode of 'When is America going to start acting like the great country we keep telling ourselves we are?'" Stewart said at the news conference. "Our veterans lived 24 hours a day, seven days a week next to toxic smoke, dioxins -- everything. And now they're being told, 'Hey man, is that stuff bad for you? I don't know, we don't have the science.' It's bulls***. It's bulls***. It's about money."
The former "Daily Show" host was there to support a new bill called the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2020, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif. The bill would give medical coverage and disability benefits to veterans who served next to a burn site and now suffer from a condition linked to the inhalation of toxins.
Stewart, who spent years pushing for legislation that ultimately extended health care coverage for 9/11 first-responders through 2092, said denying health care to veterans who were exposed to burn pits amounts to "gas-lighting."
"I'm not a doctor, I'm not a scientist. But, I'm also not an idiot. If you live next to a toxic smoke plume filled with cancer-causing elements, and you're breathing it in day in and day out, it's going to make you sick," Stewart told Fox News.
"Then, you're going to get home and people are going to tell you, just like they did with the 9/11 community, first, 'It's in your head, you're not really sick.' Second, 'OK, maybe you're sick, but had nothing to do with what that was.' And thirdly, they're going to say, 'OK, it is, but I don't know if we can afford all that,'" Stewart added. "You know, this is money. That's it. And, when you've got an F-35 that may never be battle-ready and it's going to be a cost overrun of about $1.4 trillion, and you're gas-lighting your own veterans on their health conditions because you don't want to pay for it? Criminal, and it has to stop."
The V.A. says "research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits" at this time.
"Most of the irritation is temporary and resolves once the exposure is gone," reads the V.A. website. "This includes eye irritation and burning, coughing and throat irritation, breathing difficulties, and skin itching and rashes."
"The high level of fine dust and pollution common in Iraq and Afghanistan may pose a greater danger for respiratory illnesses than exposure to burn pits, according to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report."
A lack of evidence?
Conclusive research on the links between burn-pit exposure and medical conditions is lacking.
But after the Vietnam War, there was also a lack of research on the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange. In 1991, Congress passed the Agent Orange act, which extended health benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from conditions linked to exposure. There was also an initial lack of evidence showing that 9/11 first-responders developed conditions like cancer after inhaling pulverized dust at Ground Zero.
While scientists continue to study the effects of burn-pit exposure, advocates say lawmakers should err on the side of extending health care to ailing veterans.
"If people were injured or affected and there's a plausible relationship or explanation for what's going on, the benefit of the doubt needs to go to the veteran," former V.A. Secretary Dr. David Shulkin said at the event on Tuesday. "To simply let people suffer and go without help from their government is not a satisfactory response."
- Why streaming kids according to ability is a terrible idea | Aeon Ideas ›
- Nuclear power is not the answer in a time of climate change | Aeon ... ›
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.