Military Veterans who served in the Middle East and Southwest Asia since 1990 know about the large burn pits used to incinerate trash and the resulting toxic smoke that filled the air. Some burn pits covered nearly 20 acres, and every forward operating base (FOB) had one. This includes posts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and several other countries.
The Veterans Administration has established the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry as part of continuing research on the effects of exposure to burn pits. The Burn Pit Registry has collected reports of Veterans suffering numerous symptoms of illness they blame on burn pit exposure. The VA admits that Veterans exposed to burn-pit smoke may have developed a variety of illnesses.
The VA states that toxins in burn pit smoke may specifically affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, the gastrointestinal tract, skin, eyes, and internal organs. There’s also growing evidence that burn pit smoke exposure has led to a variety of cancers.
Participation in the Burn Pit Registry does not affect Veterans’ access to VA health care or disability benefits. But being ill and having documented exposure to burn pit smoke does not automatically make a Veteran eligible for disability benefits. The VA evaluates claims based on burn pit exposure on a case-by-case basis.
At Berry Law Firm, our attorneys are Veterans who handle VA disability benefits appeals for fellow Veterans. We encourage Veterans who were exposed to burn pit smoke and are experiencing adverse health effects to seek VA disability benefits and to contact us if your initial VA disability claim is denied.
The legal team at Berry Law Firm can help you appeal a denied claim and represent you at any VA Regional Office in the country, before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Our firm has been helping Veterans obtain disability benefits for over 20 years and we have established VA policy through litigation. We know the way forward.
The VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry
The VA established the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry in 2014. The VA and other organizations, such as the National Institute of Medicine, continue to study data that may suggest links between exposure to smoke from open burn pits and long-term health problems among Veterans.
Eligible Veterans and active duty service members can voluntarily document their burn pit exposure and report health concerns. Registrants can obtain a free medical exam and may be asked to participate in studies that could involve additional questionnaires and medical examinations.
Burn Pit Exposure Factors Contributing to the Risk of Short- or Long-Term Health Effects
- Types of waste burned
- Proximity to burn pits
- Length of time and frequency of exposure
- Wind direction and other weather-related factors
- Presence of other airborne or environmental hazards in the area
According to the VA: “By completing the registry questionnaire, you can provide information to help us better understand whether long-term health conditions may be related to these exposures. Even if you have not experienced any symptoms or illnesses you believe are related exposures during military service, your participation in the registry could help the VA provide better care to all Veterans.”
The registry questionnaire – available through this secure registry portal – asks questions about the Veteran’s deployments, health history, lifestyle, and other factors. It usually takes about an hour to complete, depending on the number of deployments.
After finishing the questionnaire, the Veteran can schedule a free medical exam focused on his or her potential exposure to harmful substances during military service. This requires contacting the VA environmental health coordinator in the state where the Veteran lives or base medical facilities if the service member is still on active duty.
More than 3 million Veterans served in Southwest Asia, but as of February 2021, fewer than 300,000 had joined the registry, according to a blog post attributed to the VA Acting Under Secretary for Health Dr. Richard Stone.
Who is Eligible for the VA Burn Pit Registry?
Veterans are eligible to participate in the Burn Pit Registry if they were deployed to the Southwest Asia theater of operations any time after August 2, 1990, or to Afghanistan or Djibouti, Somalia, on or after September 11, 2001.
Known Campaigns and Operations Deployments
- Desert Shield and Desert Storm (ODS/S)
- Iraqi Freedom (OIF)
- Enduring Freedom (OEF)
- New Dawn (OND)
Deployment Regions and Countries Included
- Saudi Arabia
- Gulf of Aden
- Gulf of Oman
- United Arab Emirates
- Waters of the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea
The military operated burn pits elsewhere overseas, including at U.S. posts in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria. and Yemen. They also utilized burn pits during other time periods, but participation in the registry is currently limited to support specific research and public health studies, the VA says.
Did Burn Pit Exposure Cause Your Illness?
Burn pit fires ignited with jet fuel were used to dispose of garbage and waste produced by a military post, from munitions to medical products, plastics, petroleum, food, and human waste. The problem with burn pits is that open-air burning is not an effective way to dispose of waste. Smoke from the mix of chemicals burned in the pits could contain any number of toxins and would blow across military posts and into service members’ work and living areas.
The VA’s Burn Pit Registry has collected reports of Veterans suffering numerous symptoms of illness they blame on burn pit exposure. Meanwhile, the VA admits that toxins in burn pit smoke may specifically affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, the gastrointestinal tract, skin, eyes, and internal organs. There’s also growing evidence that burn pit smoke exposure has led to a variety of cancers among Veterans.
In 2018 the DoD prohibited the use of open burn pits for waste disposal in contingency operations unless no alternative is feasible. When an open-air burn pit is operated as “a short-term solution,” it is to be operated “in a manner that prevents or minimizes risks to the human health and safety of DoD personnel.”
Yet, while Veterans and their doctors say they have disabling illnesses caused by exposure to the toxins in burn pit smoke, the VA still maintains the health issues could have instead been caused by other exposures during or after their service. To date, the VA does not accept exposure to burn pits as a presumptive exposure, which would automatically make the Veteran eligible for disability benefits.
Instead, a Veteran must prove his or her case for benefits by demonstrating exposure to burn pits while in the service and presenting medical evidence that the burn pit exposure caused their disability.
A Veteran must submit records of a medical exam or undergo an exam that finds a disability, or at least a symptom or cluster of symptoms that, in the doctor’s professional opinion, were caused by exposure to burn pit smoke. Service records, the Vet’s statements, unit histories, news articles, and/or other evidence must establish exposure to one or more burn pits during their military service.
After gathering the evidence, the Veteran would apply for disability benefits online at the VA website or complete and mail VA Form 21-526 to their local VA Regional Office (VARO). As part of the claim review, a VA claims evaluator could have the Veteran undergo a Compensation and Pension Examination, or “C&P exam,” at their local VA medical center. After completing the examination the VA doctor will render an opinion as to the nature and severity of the Veteran’s condition. This opinion and the claim reviewer’s understanding of exposure to burn pits may be determinative as to whether the Veteran’s disability benefits claim is approved or disallowed.
We Help Veterans Appeal VA Benefits Denials
The cause and effect between exposure to the toxins that wafted from open-air burn pits operated by the U.S. military and the variety of disabling illnesses that Veterans exposed to burn pits suffer today are becoming increasingly clear.
The rules and regulations governing the VA claim process are complex and can confuse and frustrate everyone involved — including claim evaluators who make errors despite the best of intentions. Let Berry Law Firm review your claim file and help you develop a persuasive appeal if you have been denied VA benefits.
We believe Veterans have developed a variety of disabling illnesses and disorders because they were exposed to burn pit smoke and that VA claim evaluators can be convinced of the validity of the claim. We are accredited by the VA to represent Veterans seeking compensation, and our firm has obtained over 160 million dollars in disability benefits for thousands of U.S. military Veterans. You served your nation and should receive the full VA benefits available by law.