I was proud to invite a Long Island Army widow whose husband died from illnesses linked to open-air waste disposal "burn pits" in Iraq to attend the President's State of the Union Address this week.
Dina McKenna lost her husband Sgt. William McKenna in 2010 at the age of 41 following a battle with lung ailments and cancer that the Department of Veterans Affairs has confirmed was related to exposure to toxic fumes from burn pits at Balad Air Base, Iraq.
I invited Dina McKenna to the President's speech to increase awareness of the ongoing health crisis among veterans who were exposed to burn pits and build on the bipartisan consensus in Congress that we must do more to ensure affected veterans are receiving the care they need.
I began work on the burn pits issue in 2007 after an Army Nurse whose father was a member of my Veterans Advisory Board alerted me to an increase in respiratory illnesses that she believed might be linked to exposure to fumes from open-air fires used on overseas military bases to incinerate tires, munitions, medical waste, and other potentially hazardous garbage.
In response, I became a leader in the bipartisan effort in Congress to end the military's reliance on burn pits and sharply curtail their use. I also successfully advocated for the Department of Veterans Affairs to proactively identify service members who may have been exposed to toxic fumes during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan so their health can be monitored and treated using best practices.
They stood up for us, and now it's our turn to fight on behalf of veterans and the military families make heartbreaking and heroic sacrifices for our nation. I thank Dina McKenna for joining me in this vitally important effort.