CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif.- - Local Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz is introducing new legislation to help veterans exposed to burn pits at military bases overseas.
The new legislation will be called the 'Jennifer Kepner Hope Act,' in honor of the local veteran who died of pancreatic cancer which she blamed on exposure to burn pits.
Burn pits have been used by the military to dispose of all trash on bases, from human medical waste to toxic chemicals. The burn pits are doused with jet fuel.
Kepner passed away on October 18, 2017. She had no prior family history of the disease. Before her death, she worked to raise awareness to the issue, which she called a defining issue for veterans who've served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This is the Agent Orange of my generation of vets, this is the Agent Orange," Jennifer told News Channel 3's John White shortly before her death.
Ruiz announced the new legislation Tuesday morning at Forest Lawn in Cathedral City, in the same room where he spoke at her funeral nearly two years ago.
"That's why we held this press conference here, with this legislation that fulfills her desire that veterans exposed to burn pits would not be denied care by the VA," Ruiz said.
Ruiz said he is keeping the promise he made to Kepner to make sure other veterans get the care they need to fight illnesses they may have gotten after exposure to burn pits. Ruiz said the bill would make sure veterans exposed to burn pits would have access to low-cost health care, much like the Vietnam veterans who were exposed to agent orange.
Kepner's husband stood by Ruiz during the announcement. He recalled her battle for benefits while facing cancer.
"When you're going through a nightmare, you don't want to get a letter saying 'Too bad, so sad we can't help you,'" said Ben Kepner, Jennifer's husband.
Ruiz followed that up by saying that's not good enough.
"This is an urgent problem. We need to make noise about it. We need to protect our service members," Ruiz said.
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
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