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Burn Pit Victims Struggle to Find Healthcare

Burn Pit Victims Struggle to Find Healthcare

In an effort to assist burn pit victims, a Veterans Administration-sponsored burn pit online registry was supposed to connect Veterans with appropriate medical care. That hasn’t happened, according to one advocacy group.

“The health problems experienced by the many veterans who deployed to Southwest Asia warrant sustained and rigorous attention and need to be addressed, but the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry is not the right mechanism to meet all the needs,” said David Savitz, professor of epidemiology at Brown University’s School of Public Health and chairman of the committee that wrote the report.

The report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found the registry in its current iteration could not fulfill its purpose of supporting research on the cause or origin of a veteran’s disease or condition. It also said the registry could not monitor the population exposed to airborne hazards.

In a statement, the Veterans Administration said its “goal for the registry is to provide information to enhance health care access and quality for veterans with respiratory exposures. The registry can also serve as a communication pathway for veterans and their health care providers to address concerns with respect to respiratory hazards.”

What are Burn Pits?

Burn pits — emergency waste disposal methods which were very common during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – have received much attention in media in the past several years. Burning trash is nothing new, but burning trash in pits where a group of people are living for a sustained amount of time, rather than moving from place to place, is the reason these burn pits were so harmful. Most U.S. military planners expected quick, decisive victories in both Iraq and Afghanistan, meaning installations were expected to be temporary. So, no one gave much thought to wasted disposal and other mundane concerns.

Most people have used a burn pit before. Campers often throw leftovers and trash onto a campfire, for example. Even burning polystyrene (Styrofoam) cups which releases toxic smoke is not extremely harmful if it happens once or twice, the amount of trash is small, and the campers move on in a timely manner.

Huge burn pits that service stationary groups of service members are very different. The smoke is so thick and soldiers are exposed for so long that serious illness is almost inevitable.

For decades, the VA denied there was a connection between burn pit smoke and serious illnesses, such as respiratory diseases and cancer. Things began to change when Joe Biden became President in 2021. His son served two tours in Iraq. When he came home, he had brain cancer. He died shortly thereafter. The elder Biden blamed his son’s sudden and fatal illness on burn pit smoke.

After much consternation, Congress passed a comprehensive burn pit relief law. A VA disability attorney can now obtain the financial benefits sick veterans and their families need to fight their illnesses and move on with their lives.

Disability Issues

A few burn pit illnesses are presumptive illnesses. This presumption refers to the cause as opposed to the disability. For example, let’s say a veteran served in Afghanistan, and he now has melanoma (skin cancer). There is a presumption that burn pit smoke caused his melanoma. His melanoma, in other words, is “presumed” to be related to service. If, on the other hand, his illness is not on the presumptive list, an attorney will need to work harder to show his illness had its origin in service. The veteran has the burden of proof to show a service-related connection as well as a disability.

Evidence on the first point usually includes the veteran’s service record and, if necessary, buddy statements. If he was stationed near an open-air burn pit. Especially if that deployment lasted for more than a few weeks, he has probably met his burden of proof. Nevertheless, he might want to supplement this evidence with buddy statements. Soldiers who served alongside this veteran might testify about his activities keeping him near the burn pit or the thickness of the smoke.

A service-related connection might or might not be difficult to prove. A disability, especially a 100% disability, is almost always hard to prove.

VA initial examinations often focus exclusively on medical issues. However, “disability” is not just a medical term. It is also an everyday term. For that reason, VA disability attorneys often use different kind of buddy statements in this context. Friends, co-workers, and family members testify about how the veteran’s condition affects their everyday life. Such evidence often means the difference between maximum benefits and settling for less.

Work With Dedicated Attorneys

An attorney is a valuable partner in all phases of a disability claim. For a free consultation with an experienced Veterans disability lawyer, contact Cameron Firm, P.C. at 800-861-7262 or fill out the contact box on our website. We are here to represent veterans nationwide.

This article is for educational and marketing purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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