Baby Steps Toward VA Burn Pit Coverage
In December 2021, President Biden signed into law, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), two bills that expanded the VA’s burn pit coverage of illness infrastructure. The bills (a) expand the Burn Pit Registry to include service in Egypt and Syria, and (b) require Department of Defense physicians to undergo training on the health effects of burn pit exposure. Advocates hope the moves will lead to full benefits for burn pit victims in the near future.
“Today is a great victory for our nation’s veterans and service members, and I look forward to continuing the fight to give them the timely care they need and end the use of burn pits once and for all.” remarked bill sponsor California Rep. Mark Ruiz.
About Burn Pits
If you have ever gone camping, you may be familiar with the practice of burning your trash before leaving your campsite. It is an easy, quick, and seemingly harmless practice to quickly clean an outdoor living situation. The Department of Defense also approves of this method for military groups in non-permanent settings. For small groups of soldiers who are constantly on the move, burn pits are an effective solution. But for large, stationary groups, burn pits are extremely hazardous.
To give an example: campfire burn pit debris might include mostly leftover food from a handful of individuals over a span of a few days. In contrast, burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan were used by hundreds, if not thousands of individuals, for years. Furthermore, service members were not just burning leftover food. Common burn pit debris included:
- Rubber tires
- Styrofoam cups
- Unexploded ordnance
- Metal parts
- Medical waste
- Plastic bottles
- Human waste
Most of these items release toxic smoke into the air when burned. After a few years, some DOD observers warned about the hazards of burn pit use. But top decision-makers largely ignored these warnings.
Burn Pit Illnesses
Burn pit smoke is usually laced with heavy metals, like mercury and cadmium. The body cannot dispose of these microscopic particles. So, they accumulate in the blood. These toxic particles alter body chemistry and cause tumors. Therefore, common burn pit smoke injuries include brain cancer and breathing problems.
Usually, victims have no genetic or lifestyle red flags other than exposure to burn pits during military service. So, they often do not undergo early cancer treatment. The longer treatment is delayed, the worse the prognosis becomes.
Burn pit smoke also affects the lungs. Frequently, the toxic smoke causes scar tissue to build up in narrow breathing passageways. Early symptoms of lung disease can include chest tightness, fatigue, and other generic symptoms. Many people do not realize they are seriously ill until advanced symptoms, like trouble breathing while at rest, appear. By that time, the disease may be incurable.
The VA has consistently denied the links between burn pits and these illnesses. Of course, the world is full of toxic particles. It is often difficult to trace cancer to a specific incident. As for breathing problems, the VA usually contends that the desert environment, as opposed to burn pit smoke, caused these issues.
However, the bills recently signed into law shows that Congress is taking burn pit victim claims seriously and that many elected officials are ready to demand the VA take responsibility for burn pit exposure.
Despite the slow process toward presumptive coverage, a VA benefits lawyer can still obtain compensation in burn pit exposure cases.
First, the Veteran must prove that s/he was exposed to significant amounts of burn pit smoke. Usually, the Veteran must have spent significant time near a large burn pit, and that burn pit must have been located relatively close to a base.
Second, the Veteran must prove that burn pit smoke caused the illness for which they are seeking service connection. Medical evidence is critical in this part of a claim. That is where the mandatory training for DOD physicians in the recent NDAA will come in – and will hopefully get more veterans service-connected for their burn pit related illnesses.
Finally, the Veteran must prove the injury is disabling.
Available VA disability benefits usually include monthly cash and free treatment at VA medical facilities.
Reach Out to Hard-Working Attorneys
For a free consultation with an experienced Veterans disability lawyer, contact the Cameron Firm, P.C. at 800-861-7262 or fill out the contact box to the right of our homepage. We are proud to represent Veterans nationwide.
Please note this article is for educational and marketing purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship.