Evidence is increasing that cancer among military Veterans may be a service-connected disability caused by exposure to burn pits, large open-air waste incineration sites operated in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Fires in burn pits as large as 20 acres burned plastics, metals, ammunition, solvents and other materials that released toxic chemicals and inhalants into the air. They were located within camp perimeters as a safety measure, and smoke from the pits regularly wafted into work areas and living quarters.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report that stated that 2,3,7,8-TCDD (TCDD), the most potent of all dioxins (also found in Agent Orange), was found in the air surrounding burn pits in Iraq.
The Veterans Administration admits that toxins in burn pit smoke may affect the skin, eyes, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal tract, and internal organs. Veterans may file claims for disability benefits for health conditions caused by burn pit exposure. To qualify for benefits, Veterans must provide evidence that their burn pit exposure caused their disability. You may need to appeal a denied VA claim to receive the benefits you deserve. Berry Law helps Veterans with their disability claims, including Veterans who have cancer they believe was caused by burn pit exposure and have been unable to obtain appropriate VA benefits.
Berry Law helps Veterans across the nation appeal denied VA claims and seek increases in disability ratings. The lawyers of Berry Law Firm, most of whom are military Veterans, will work to help you receive a VA rating that provides the disability benefit you deserve for cancer caused by burn pit exposure during your service in the U.S. military.
Contact us today to discuss how.
What is Military Service Burn Pit Exposure?
Burn pits were large, open waste disposal sites located within the perimeters of forward operating bases (FOBs) in Iraq, Afghanistan and other posts within the Southwest Asia theater of military operations after 9/11.
Jet fuel (JP-8) was used as the accelerant in burn pit fires.
Waste products disposed of in burn pits included:
- Miscellaneous chemicals
- Medical and human waste
- Metal/aluminum cans
- Munitions and other unexploded ordnance
- Discarded food
- Incomplete combustion by-products.
Many of the materials incinerated in burn pits create toxins when burned.
The VA has conceded that Veterans deployed to designated locations during specified periods were exposed to certain toxic substances, chemicals and hazards because of burn pits operated by military personnel and/or contractors.
A bill introduced in Congress acknowledged exposure among Veterans serving in:
- Iraq from Aug. 2, 1990–Feb. 28, 1991 and from March 19, 2003 to an unspecified date when use of burn pits ended
- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar from Aug. 2, 1990 to an unspecified date when use of burn pits ended
And after 9/11 until an unspecified date when use of burn pits ended in:
- Other locations as set forth by the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.
The registry collects health data from Veterans for use in research and is open to Veterans who were deployed to the Southwest Asia theater of operations any time after Aug. 2, 1990 or Afghanistan or Djibouti after 9/11.
Covered deployments include those for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm (ODS/S), Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Enduring Freedom (OEF) and New Dawn (OND), with service in:
- Saudi Arabia
- Gulf of Aden
- Gulf of Oman
- United Arab Emirates
- Waters of the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Red Sea.
If you served in any of these areas, the VA recognizes that you were exposed to burn pits, and the VA understands the potential that you have to become ill because of this exposure. However, the VA does not provide benefits for cancer or other illnesses simply because your service included exposure to burn pits. To obtain VA disability benefits, you must demonstrate that your cancer was caused by exposure to burn pits.
Research Suggests Burn Pit-Related Cancers
It is widely understood that inhaling smoke that contains toxic chemicals can cause lung disease and other harm to the body, including cellular changes that lead to cancer. Multiple studies suggest that smoke from burn pits operated by the U.S. military and military contractors in the Southwest Asia theater of operations contained carcinogens, any substance that promotes the formation of cancer.
The Institute of Medicine report “Long-term health consequences of exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan,” concludes that the data reviewed indicate the potential for multiple long-term health effects associated with burn pit emissions. Health effects associated with five or more chemicals detected in burn pit emissions at Joint Base Balad in Iraq include “certain cancers (stomach, respiratory, skin, and leukemia, among others),” the report says.
A more recent study, “Analysis of Burn Pits 360 Degrees Registry Data on Veterans,” by the College of Allied Health Services at Augusta University in Georgia, concludes that, “Deployed Veterans have higher proportionate mortality from cancer than respiratory illness” and “Army Veterans have higher proportionate mortality as they were exposed more to burn pits than other military services.”
Burn Pits 360 is a nonprofit organization that enables deployed Veterans to self-report injuries and deaths that may be due to exposure to open-air burn pits.
Among 39 cancer deaths within the registry’s data were cases of:
- Acute myeloid leukemia
- Brain cancer
- Soft-tissue sarcoma (cancers in muscle, fat, blood vessels)
- Gastroesophageal cancer
- Lung cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Appendix cancer
- Renal cell cancer
- Colon cancer
- Liver cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Squamous cell cancer
- Nasopharyngeal cancer
Further, the New York State Division of Veterans’ Services lists several cancers among medical conditions that have been linked to exposure to burn pit fumes, including:
- Bone cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Intestinal cancers
- Tonsil cancer
In both reports, researchers said their data indicated the need for further study. The VA also says further study is warranted to determine whether there is a service connection between burn pit exposure and cancer among Veterans.
We believe the cause and effect of burn pit exposure and cancer is becoming increasingly clear and encourage Veterans who were exposed to burn pit smoke and have been diagnosed with cancer to talk to a knowledgeable VA disability lawyer about establishing service connection to obtain benefits.
How Do You Get VA Disability Benefits for a Burn Pit-Related Cancer?
If you think exposure to a military burn pit caused your cancer, you can apply for Veterans’ disability benefits online at the VA website or by mailing a completed VA Form 21-526 to your local VA Regional Office (VARO).
The VA pays disability benefits according to the severity of a Veteran’s service-connected injury or illness. A VA claims evaluator assigns a disability rating in 10 percent increments based primarily on a review of medical and service records that the Veteran submits. A 100% disability rating indicates total disability and results in the highest basic monthly compensation. Some Veterans may also obtain Combat-Related Special Compensation, which is additional monthly compensation available under specific circumstances.
For some medical conditions or exposures, there is a presumptive service connection, which means the Veteran does not have to provide actual proof that an incident during service caused the disability. This does not exist for burn pit exposure.
Disability claims based on burn pit exposure must demonstrate the connection between the Veteran’s illness, such as cancer, and the exposure to burn pit emissions. Each claim is judged individually.
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 think the VA decision is wrong, you have the right to appeal, but must do so within a year of the VA’s decision. The VA disability appeals process has multiple levels, but an appeal will include a review of your medical records and may require you to undergo a VA-directed Compensation and Pension (C&P) medical exam.
If you are already receiving VA disability benefits but the rating does not account for a new diagnosis of cancer connected to burn pit exposure, you may ask the VA to review your disability rating at any time.
In an appeal or a disability rating review, the VA must consider as valid evidence:
- Medical records from a VA or military hospital that reflect treatment or hospitalization.
- Records from private or public medical facilities indicating that the Veteran’s condition has become worse.
Berry Law Firm can help you appeal an unfavorable VA benefits decision or seek an increase in your disability rating if you have been diagnosed with cancer that you believe was connected to your exposure to burn pits during service.
Our legal team works with Veterans to appeal improper outcomes from claims for VA disability benefits. You may want to appeal a disability decision if the VA has denied your medical condition because they believe it wasn’t connected to your time in the military, has assigned a disability rating that is too low, or has incorrectly established the effective date for your benefits.
We also assist with requests for VA ratings reviews when a Veteran’s new or worsening medical condition should qualify for an increase in benefits.
Contact Us About Your VA Benefit for Burn Pit Cancer
Let Berry Law review your medical records and service history and help you seek a proper VA benefit for cancer caused by your service in proximity to military burn pits. We believe many Veterans unfortunately may have been exposed to cancer-causing toxins in burn pit smoke and that the evidence can demonstrate the service connection. We have made new VA law with past legal arguments, and we can make the system work for you.
Our attorneys have extensive experience helping Veterans file appeals that ultimately increase their disability ratings. We do not charge disabled Veterans for legal assistance unless you win your appeal.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion of your VA disability claim, your current medical diagnosis and how we can assist you. We are Veterans helping Veterans. Don’t go to battle alone.