Burn pits are well-known in the military community, but the reasons they exist, why they are used and the dangers that accompany them are less familiar to most.
What are burn pits exactly?
Until the mid-2010s, burn pits were commonly used in Iraq, Afghanistan and other overseas locations to help dispose of all varieties of waste collected on military bases.
The types of waste burned in these areas include but were not limited to:
- Aluminum cans
- Medical and human waste
- Petroleum and lubricants
In some locations, these fires were massive in scale. For instance, at Joint Base Balad – one of the largest military bases in Iraq – the burn pit covered nearly ten acres. This is the equivalent of eight American football fields! This would result in smoke encompassing the entire base when winds shifted.
Since 2001, burn pits have also been used in Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Qatar, and many other locations throughout the region. Most of these sites have now been closed by the Department of Defense, however, the toxic fumes these disposal areas created are now linked to a range of cancers and respiratory conditions.
What burn pit conditions are now presumptive?
The VA has added more than 20 burn pit and other toxic exposure presumptive conditions based on the PACT Act. This change expands benefits for Gulf War era and post-9/11 Veterans.
If you suffer from any of the health conditions mentioned, you could be eligible for VA disability compensation.
These cancers are now presumptive:
- Brain cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
- Head cancer of any type
- Kidney cancer
- Lymphatic cancer of any type
- Lymphoma of any type
- Neck cancer of any type
- Pancreatic cancer
- Reproductive cancer of any type
- Respiratory cancer of any type
These illnesses are now presumptive:
- Asthma that was diagnosed after service
- Chronic bronchitis
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Chronic rhinitis
- Chronic sinusitis
- Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
- Granulomatous disease
- Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
- Pulmonary fibrosis
If you have been denied benefits due to burn pits or toxic exposure, or are attempting to increase your rating, the team at Hill & Ponton may be able to assist you. Click the button below to get more information.
Burn Pit Exposure Symptoms and Health Effects
With the various amounts and types of chemical waste that was burned, the smoke released may have been made up of any number of toxic chemicals. As a result, it is difficult to quantify exposure.
Burn pit exposures also affect each individual differently, and may affect those exposed for long periods of time, or with pre-existing conditions like asthma, lung, or heart-disease, more severely.
Symptoms and long-term health issues from exposure also depend on the proximity to the burn pit, the direction of the smoke, and the length and frequency of exposure.
The toxins and smoke emitted from burn pits may affect the skin, eyes, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, and gastrointestinal tract.
Initial exposure symptoms often include:
- eye irritation and/or burning
- coughing and throat irritation
- difficulty breathing
- skin itching
These exposure symptoms often appear temporary and resolve following initial exposure. However, burn pit exposure has caused long-term health concerns as well.
What to Do If You Were Exposed to Burn Pit Smoke
If you have noticed health problems following burn pit exposure, it is important to make your treating physician aware of your exposure so that your symptoms and any diagnosed medical conditions may be documented for both VA health care and potential VA benefits.
In addition, the VA has set up an open Burn Pit Registry for military members who served in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn, Djibouti, Africa, on or after September 11, 2001, Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm, or Southwest Asia theater on or after August 2, 1990.
Military service members may check their eligibility prior to enrollment in the Burn Pit Registry, and there are no costs to participate.
Part of the registry involves an optional health evaluation with a free health examination with a VA provider after you have completed the requisite questionnaire.
Even if you do not have any health problems, you may still enroll in the registry.
Participation in the registry helps contribute to the ongoing research pertaining to airborne hazards from burn pits and their health risks.
Enrollment in the Burn Pit Registry will not affect any VA disability benefits claims as it is completely voluntary.
Environmental Effects of Burn Pits
Because of the significant environmental exposures open burning can lead to, an Army Technical Bulletin on Guidelines for Field Waste Management has suggested for it to only be used in emergency situations.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes the harmful effects of burn pits and even outdoor fireplaces.
In its discussion of recreational fires, the EPA warns that such fires can become a considerable source of fine-particle air pollution, affecting air quality.
Particle pollution is a mixture of microscopic solids and liquid droplets suspended in the air. This type of pollution is also known as particulate matter.
The EPA has identified health problems associated with particle pollution to include:
- Irritation of the airways
- Difficulty breathing
- Decreased lung function
- Aggravated asthma
- Chronic bronchitis,
- Irregular heartbeat
- Nonfatal heart attacks, and premature death in people with existing heart or lung disease.
Air pollution in Afghanistan and Iraq is generally high, with higher levels of particulate matter than in the United States. Particulate matter is made up of acids, organic chemicals, metals, soil particles, dust particles, and allergens.
The Department of Defense has identified open-pit burning as a source of particulate matter pollution.
But, there have been findings that some burn pits lack compliance with the regulation. As a result, the dangers of burn pits continue, substantiating the importance of further study of long-term health effects from exposure during active duty.
Have Questions About Burn Pits and Potential Benefits?
The attorneys at Hill & Ponton are here to support you in your claim and determining your toxic exposure due to burn pits disability percentage. If you are intending to appeal a denied claim, you can contact us for an evaluation.
We also offer a free ebook The Road to VA Compensation Benefits, to help break down the claims process from start to finish. Click the link below to learn more.
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