Comic, television host and activist Jon Stewart is back on the air with “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” a new series now streaming on Apple TV+. The first episode is called “The Problem With War,” and Stewart uses the show to talk about burn pits.
Stewart left “The Daily Show” in 2015 and has devoted a lot of his time since then to working with the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, especially those workers who got sick from working to clean up the toxic wreckage of the attacks.
Through that work, he met Rosie Torres, a military spouse whose husband, Le Roy, was exposed to burn pits when he served in Iraq. Both are the founders of the nonprofit Burn Pits 360. Stewart immediately recognized the parallels to his work on behalf of 9/11 workers and embraced the cause. He appeared on Capitol Hill last fall in support of legislation that would make it easier for exposed veterans to get treatment, and that bill is currently stalled in Congress.
Consider this episode title Stewart’s attempt to light a fire under the ass for Congress.
We know that there are bureaucrats who claim that there isn’t “scientific proof” that exposure to the benzene and dioxins from burn-pit fires causes health issues. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ solution is to keep paying for “research” while veterans keep getting sick and dying, studies that they claim are “inconclusive.”
Stewart has long had a unique gift for a mocking tone that still conveys righteous anger. This topic really gets him going. He’s got news videos going back decades in which the toxicity of these chemicals is treated as scientific fact. He’s also got internal memos from the DoD and the VA confirming that they know exactly how dangerous those burn pits can be.
The chemicals produced by burn pits are the same chemicals in Agent Orange and the same ones causing health issues for 9/11 cleanup workers. This, of course, is what sends our host into orbit.
The show interviews people struggling with burn-pit illnesses and gets a killer quote from one veteran: “The VA’s whole model is delay, deny, hope you die.”
Stewart is pissed, saying, “Now veterans are dying and going bankrupt because the DoD and VA are forcing them to indisputably prove a connection they already internally admit exists. And what makes it so incredibly demoralizing is that they are holding the veterans to a standard of proof far beyond the one our own government used to send them to war in the first place.”
The show opens with a takedown of how much civilians like to say, “Thank you for your service,” without any concern for the trauma that many veterans have endured. He follows with the burn-pit explainer embedded above in this story.
You want a semi-comic bit about what exactly goes into a burn pit? Stewart’s got you covered there. He follows with a serious panel featuring Rosie and Le Roy Torres, veteran and former VA clinical researcher Julie Tomaska, Isiah James from the Black Veterans Project, Army National Guard veteran Wesley Black and Gina Cancelino, whose Marine husband died from exposure. All of these people have been affected directly by burn-pit exposure.
The program ends with further investigation of the problem, a conference with his young production staff and a visit to VA Secretary Denis McDonough. While the secretary says he wants to fix the problem, he also blames laws that require a certain level of scientific proof of causation before the VA can take action. McDonough can’t offer the answers that Stewart is looking for, but he agrees that there’s a problem that must be solved.
And yet, McDonough can’t define exactly what data will allow him to offer the care these veterans deserve. And Stewart isn’t happy with the answers. He wants the VA to implement a program similar to the one that’s being used to help 9/11 workers, one that takes a more preventative approach and allows symptoms to be addressed as they develop.
Of course, what goes unstated is that the best way to speed up the process is to change the rules, and that’s something that Congress can do. Stewart’s show seems likely to inspire questions for our representatives and maybe even some action.
“The Problem With War” isn’t nearly as funny as fans of “The Daily Show” might like, but Stewart seems to have come out of retirement because he wanted to address some issues that were important to him. The fallout from burn pits has been a problem that never gets solved, so maybe a show like this can help motivate the government to act.
If you’re not an Apple TV subscriber or just want more information on the subject, Stewart is also doing a podcast that covers the same topic from a different perspective. New episodes of “The Problem With Jon Stewart'' will be released every two weeks on Apple TV+
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