United States service members stationed at military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to burn pits that are linked to cancers and lung and heart conditions.
Exposure to Burn Pits
Burn pits gained notoriety during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The term “burn pit” refers to a designated place devoted to open-air combustion of waste such as garbage, scrap metal, rubber, ammunition, and toxic chemicals. Burn pits were commonly found on U.S. military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan where necessary disposal of trash and unwanted supplies was difficult.
During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, thousands of U.S. service members were exposed to toxic smoke and fumes created by burn pits. As a result, many veterans are now suffering from illnesses and diseases including lung problems, heart conditions, leukemia, and certain cancers linked to exposure from burn pits. Common symptoms from exposure include:
- Chronic bronchitis
- Constrictive bronchiolitis
- Persistent coughing
- Skin lesions
- Headaches and migraines
Although many injury claims have been filed with accident lawyers across the country, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) has been slow to acknowledge a connection between burn pits and serious health conditions. The VA has established a voluntary Burn Pit Registry where more than 180,000 people have signed up. However, out of the 11,581 injury claims filed related to burn pits, only 2,318 claims have been accepted by the VA. Approximately 44% of burn-pit-related claims were denied because the condition had not been officially diagnosed at the time claims were filed.
In 2019, The U. S. House of Representatives passed a bill that requires military departments and the Department of Defense (DOD) to evaluate military service members for exposure to burn pits, if they were stationed where burn pits were used. Service members must be enrolled in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry unless they decline enrollment. The House Bill requires burn pit exposure evaluations to be included in physical exams and periodic health assessments conducted prior to deployment and/or separation from active duty. The DOD is required to share all evaluation reports with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
With the slow VA process and denied VA claims, many burn pit injury victims are filing personal injury lawsuits with accident lawyers. The National Defense Center for Energy and Environment is investigating viable systems that can operate with small, intermittent production of waste at short-term military outposts. The Pentagon is investigating incinerators that can convert waste to usable energy.