Military veterans deployed overseas in the last two decades know about large burn pits used for refuse disposal and the toxic smoke that filled the air above them. Every military forward operating base (FOB) used burn pits, some covering nearly 20 acres. This includes posts throughout Iraq, Afghanistan, and Djibouti, Somalia, on the Horn of Africa. The pit at Joint Base Balad (Iraq), also known as Logistic Support Area (LSA) Anaconda, is infamous.
Forward operating bases often use burn pits to dispose of nearly every kind of waste — including human feces — burning them with jet fuel.
Because pits do not effectively burn waste, smoke from the mix of chemicals burned in the pits blows across military bases and into service members’ living areas.
The VA admits that toxins in burn pit smoke may affect the skin, eyes, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems; gastrointestinal tract; and internal organs. However, the department insists that most of the irritation is “temporary and resolves”
At this point, the VA does not consider harm from exposure to burn pits as a “presumptive” exposure for disability. However, veterans may obtain disability benefits if they can show exposure to burn pits and provide evidence that their burn pit exposure caused their disability.
Berry Law can assist and advise veterans who suffer from military burn pit exposure in the Middle East (the Southwest Asia theater of operations), Afghanistan, or the Horn of Africa (Somalia). Your medical condition may qualify for disability benefits without the VA acknowledging the damage done by the military’s toxic burn pits.
Contact us today to discuss whether we can help you.
At Berry Law, our veteran attorneys believe in helping fellow veterans pursue the VA disability benefits they have earned. We handle appeals before VA Regional Offices nationwide and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, as well as before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and higher courts when necessary.
Firm founder John S. Berry Sr. is a Vietnam veteran who has a long track record of fighting for the rights of fellow Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD. Attorney John S. Berry Jr. is a former Army Ranger who served as a company commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom and, before that, deployed to Bosnia for Operation Joint Forge.
Founded in 1965, Berry Law has experience helping veterans obtain disability benefits. Our attorneys have litigated VA disability claims in the Court of Appeals, and our cases have helped to establish VA law. We possess the knowledge, skills, resources, and drive to take on the complex legal issues that may require litigation before the VA fully recognizes burn pit exposure as a direct, presumptive cause of veteran disabilities.
The VA has established an Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry for veterans who want to report burn pit exposure and health concerns. You must complete a questionnaire about your health and exposure to airborne hazards. As the database develops, future studies may use the information to identify the potential for long-term disabilities.
The registry is for OEF/OIF/OND/OFS veterans and service members who deployed to the Southwest Asia theater of operations on or after August 2, 1990, and those who deployed to Afghanistan or Djibouti after September 11, 2001. Registration is voluntary and does not affect eligibility for VA benefits.
The VA also recognizes the potential for veterans to have been exposed to a range of chemical, physical, and environmental hazards during military service. This includes such specific environmental hazards as:
Veterans may qualify for disability benefits due to their exposure to such environmental hazards if they can demonstrate that they:
Exposure to a burn pit, waste disposal pollution, chemical fires, or particulate matter in and of itself is not a disability. A claim for disability benefits must include medical evidence of a disability, or at least a symptom or cluster of symptoms, and must show that exposure to a specific environmental hazard caused the disability or symptom(s).
You must also demonstrate your exposure to one or more burn pits, typically through service records. However, the VA may consider personal statements, buddy statements, unit histories, news articles, and other evidence.
Given the wide variety of materials incinerated in military burn pits, the potential ill effects of exposure to burn pit smoke are innumerable. The VA says problems caused by burn pit exposure wear off when exposure ends, and that toxins found in air samples at burn pits were within acceptable levels. The VA does allow that military veterans who were closer to burn pits and/or exposed for longer periods have a higher potential for harm.
Potential health effects from burn pit exposure also depend on the kind of waste burned. Waste products disposed of in burn pits included but were not limited to:
Jet fuel (JP-8) was used as the accelerant in burn pit fires.
Many of the above types of products, if not toxic already, create toxins when burned. When the Department of Defense sampled the air at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, it found particulate matter and several types of toxins:
According to the Department of Defense, any of these toxins can adversely affect a person’s:
Harmful exposure is primarily through inhalation and contact with skin, but also through ingestion. For some of the toxins, skin contact “greatly” contributes to overall dosage, or amount of consumption.
More specifically, the VA says occupational exposure to fuels (petroleum, lubricants, and oils, including JP-8 jet fuel and diesel) can cause irritation to unprotected skin, eye and upper-respiratory irritation, fatigue, breathing difficulty, headaches, dizziness, and sleep disturbances.
Inhaling the vapors of solvents (liquids used to dissolve, degrease, clean, strip paint, etc.) can irritate the eyes and cause drowsiness and/or difficulty with breathing, and at high levels can cause neurological damage.
If you believe exposure to an open military burn pit caused your disabling illness, you can apply for veterans’ disability benefits online at the VA website or complete and mail VA Form 21-526 to your local VA Regional Office (VARO). Here is what you can expect from the process:
When the VA has processed your claim, the VA Regional Office will mail you a Rating Decision to advise you of the disability rating and monthly benefit granted to you. If you find the decision to be wrong, you have a right to appeal.
The VA claims appeals process has multiple levels:
Berry Law helps veterans appeal adverse VA disability benefit claims decisions. Many clients appeal because the VA denied their injury was service-connected, awarded a disability rating that was too low (and thus provided less of a benefit), or made an error in the correct effective date for their benefits.
Veterans who are disabled due to toxins spewed by military base burn pits must prove that their illness is service connected. However, the rules and regulations governing the claims process can be confusing and frustrating for everyone involved — including claim evaluators who make errors even with the best of intentions.
Facing the VA system alone is not necessary. At Berry Law, we know the way forward. We have decades of experience fighting for veterans appealing faulty VA disability benefit decisions.
Our objective is to help veterans obtain the disability benefits they earned.
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