Burn pit exposure is common among thousands of veterans who served in the Middle East after 9/11. These veterans and service members suffered for years without aid or benefits from the government. A new bill introduced on February 1st, 2022 aims to provide benefits these veterans rightfully deserve.
What are Open-Air Burn Pits?
Burn pits were common at US Military installations in the Middle East, most notably across Afghanistan and Iraq, used to incinerate all types of waste. Chemicals, medical and human waste, batteries, plastics, metal and aluminum cans, petroleum and lubricant products, rubber, wood, food, and dead animal remains were burned rather than properly disposed of.
Even more concerning, soldiers report that they have seen humvees, airplane fuselages, weapons, ammunition, unexploded ordnances, tires, diesel fuel, and jet fuel discarded into burn pits.
More than 200,000 people who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan believe they suffer permanent damage from burn pit exposure.
Burn Pit Exposure
Open-air burn pits emitted a toxic smoke that floated above military bases that allegedly lead to various health problems, including cancer, among service members. Burn pit exposure victims have brought forward disability claims that say breathing in fumes from open-air burn pits has led to numerous respiratory, pulmonary, and neurological problems.
Even though the dangers of burn pit exposure are well documented, the Department of Veterans Affairs still denies the vast majority of disability claims from victims.
The denial of disability claims heavily burdens former service members, requiring them to obtain legal counsel and make routine trips to the hospital in order to prove the link between their ailments and exposure to toxic chemicals during their time in the military.
Burn Pit Exposure Health Effects
Burn pit exposure has effect service members in different ways, depending on the length of their exposure and the chemical makeup of the toxic smoke they’ve been in contact with. Immediate symptoms of burn pit exposure often include rashes, skin irritation, eye irritation, throat irritation, difficulty breathing, and coughing.
More serious and sometimes deadly health effects from burn pit exposure reportedly include:
- Neurological problems
- High blood pressure
- Lung diseases such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma
- Multiple types of cancer
- Multiple sclerosis
- Cardiovascular problems
Registry for Burn Pit Exposure Victims
The Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry is a database containing information on veterans and service members and their health effects relating to toxic burn pit exposure.
The registry allows veterans and service members who were deployed to various Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian countries, regions, and bases after August 2nd, 1990 to share detailed information to understand whether long-term health conditions may be related to burn pit exposure.
More than 200,000 former service members have joined the registry and shared their experiences and symptoms.
Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act
The new bill, the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act, would offer health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs to post-9/11 veterans experiencing illnesses related to burn pit exposure.
This bill is less comprehensive than earlier bills introduced. The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act was introduced in June 2021 and attempted to offer benefits to all service members exposed to toxic chemicals since the Vietnam War. The Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act was introduced in October 2021 and does not outline a time limit on eligibility for VA health care.
The Senate VA Committee unanimously passed the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act on February 2nd, 2022. The bill still has to gain approval from the full Senate to be put into law, but this is a significant step in the right direction.