Burn pits operated at military bases in the Middle East and Afghanistan after 9/11 were open air waste disposal sites that released numerous toxins and pollutants into the air. Burn pits incinerated chemicals, human waste, medical waste, plastics, metals, electronics, unused ordnance and other debris. Veterans deployed to these bases have since complained of numerous illnesses and medical disorders they link to burn pit exposure. 

The Veterans Administration says toxins in burn pit smoke can affect the skin, eyes, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, gastrointestinal tract and internal organs. But the long-term health effects of exposure to burn pits are still not well understood. As the VA and other organizations continue to assess the long-term effects of burn pit exposure among Veterans, the agency is handling Veterans’ claims of disability caused by service-connected burn pit exposure on a case-by-case basis.

Berry Law helps Veterans appeal unfavorable rating decisions related to service-connected disabilities. If you have been diagnosed with an illness or disease and believe it was related to exposure to military burn pit emissions in the Southwest Asia theater of operations, your medical condition may qualify you for Veterans’ disability benefits. Our disability attorneys are ready to go to battle with the VA to ensure you receive all the disability compensation you need.

If you served at a military base where there was an active burn pit and have symptoms of burn pit exposure, you should talk to your doctor about whether your condition is related to military service and, if your condition is, seek VA disability benefits. If you have already filed a claim that was denied or you have a disability rating that does not reflect your illness due to burn pit exposure, the Veterans’ disability attorneys at Berry Law may be able to help. We handle disability appeals for Veterans in all 50 states and some in foreign countries.

What Is a Burn Pit?

Burn pits were large open-air waste disposal sites where service members and military contractors incinerated all manner of waste from the base.

Fires were ignited with jet fuel (JP-8), and waste products disposed of in the pits included:

  • Chemicals
  • Discarded food
  • Medical and human waste
  • Metal/aluminum cans
  • Munitions and other unexploded ordnance
  • Paint
  • Petroleum and lubricant products
  • Plastics
  • Rubber
  • Wood.

Burn pits were located within base perimeters so service members could dispose of waste without being exposed to hostile fire. There were more than 250 burns pits in operation near bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Burn pits created giant black plumes of smoke that released a variety of toxins into the air and descended on base work areas and living quarters. Some pits were as large as 20 acres. The burn pit at Joint Base Balad in Iraq, also known as Camp Anaconda, became infamous for its size and proximity to base operations.

They were common at forward operating bases (FOBs) in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations after 9/11. The U.S. government has also acknowledged possible burn pit exposure among Veterans during the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War.

Common Symptoms of Burn Pit Exposure

The VA and other governmental and independent agencies continue to study reports of illness that may be related to Veterans’ exposure to burn pits. The VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry collects health data from Veterans for use in research.

Among the many symptoms and health conditions reported by Veterans are:

Respiratory conditions, including:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Lung cancer and other respiratory cancers 
  • Constrictive bronchiolitis
  • Emphysema
  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Pleuritis
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Chronic persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

Neurological conditions, including

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Stroke
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Uncategorized neurobehavioral effects

Heart and circulatory system conditions, including:

  • Rheumatic heart disease
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Pulmonary heart disease and other forms of heart disease
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Hypertension
  • Diseases of the arteries, arterioles, capillaries, veins, and lymphatic vessels
  • Other circulatory system disorders

Cancers, including:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Bone cancer
  • Brain cancer
  • Chronic B-cell leukemias
  • Colon cancer 
  • Kidney cancer
  • Leukemia 
  • Lymphomas
  • Multiple myeloma (cancer of plasma cells)
  • Prostate cancer
  • Skin cancer
  • Testicular cancer
  • Other cancers

Adverse reproductive and perinatal outcomes, including:

  • Infertility
  • Poor maternal health
  • Low birth weight
  • Poor infant health and development
  • Fetal and infant death
  • Unspecified birth defects

Other diseases and disorders, including:

  • AL amyloidosis
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Chloracne (a skin condition that looks like acne often seen in teenagers)
  • Granulomatous disease 
  • Lupus
  • Type II diabetes

The VA and others have concluded for each illness or disorder reported by Veterans exposed to burn pits that there is inconclusive evidence of a direct link between the disorder and exposure to burn pits. However, the VA has not ruled out a possible connection between burn pit exposure and chronic health effects.

The VA says further study is warranted and will consider individual claims of disability due to service-connected exposure to burn pits on a case-by-case basis.

Meanwhile, members of Congress have proposed legislation to create a presumption that service members deployed to certain countries and areas would automatically qualify for disability benefits for certain diseases and conditions because of the widespread use of burn pits in certain areas. The Veteran would simply need to show they were deployed to the location for a period of time to receive VA benefits.

soldier in iraq wearing a gas mask to protect against toxic smoke from burn pits

We believe the cause and effect between exposure to the toxins that emanated from burn pits and a variety of illnesses and disorders among Veterans is becoming increasingly clear. We encourage ill Veterans who were exposed to burn pit smoke to seek VA disability benefits and appeal if their initial VA disability claim is denied.  

Report Burn Pit Symptoms and Seek VA Disability Benefits

The VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry allows Veterans to report burn pit exposure and health concerns so this information may be used in future studies of the potential links between burn pit exposure and long-term disabilities. Registration requires completing a questionnaire about your health and exposures to airborne hazards.

If you have been diagnosed with a disabling illness that you believe was caused by exposure to open burn pit(s) during military service, you may 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). A claim application requires medical and service records or information that allows the VA to locate them, plus financial information.

A VA claims evaluator may order you to undergo a Compensation and Pension Examination[RN1] , or “C&P exam,” at your local VA medical center. The VA doctor who conducts the C&P exam will render his or her opinion as to the nature and severity of your condition.

Basic VA disability benefits are monthly payments based on the severity of a Veteran’s service-connected injury or illness. To determine the monthly amount, a VA claims evaluator examines service and medical records to assign a disability rating, which is depicted in 10 percent increments. A 100% disability rating indicates total disability and the highest amount of basic monthly compensation paid to disabled Veterans.

If the VA denies your claim or issues a disability rating you believe is too low, you have the right to appeal the decision. A disabled Veteran who is receiving benefits may ask the VA for a review of their disability rating at any time.

If it has been more than a year since the VA has granted disability benefits, the Veteran may make a standard request for reevaluation, which requires completing a single form to release medical records. If it has been less than a year since the VA has approved benefits, the request for a new disability rating becomes an appeal of the claim. In an appeal, the VA must consider medical records but may also require the Veteran to undergo a C&P medical exam.

Whether you pursue an appeal or a disability rating review, the VA is required to consider medical records from a VA or military hospital that reflect treatment or hospitalization or records from private or public medical facilities that indicate the Veteran’s condition has grown worse.

The VA disability attorneys at Berry Law can help you with an appeal of your denied claim for VA disability benefits or with a review of your disability rating if your benefit does not reflect the harm you have suffered. While the VA does not automatically agree that a Veteran’s illness is a service-connected disability caused by exposure to burn pits, it has admitted that the link between service, burn pits and many illnesses and disorders cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Contact Our VA Disability Attorneys

Let Berry Law review your medical records and service history if you have not been able to obtain benefits or add an illness or disorder caused by exposure to military burn pits to your VA disability rating. Our attorneys have extensive experience helping Veterans file appeals and request reevaluations that ultimately lead to more beneficial disability ratings.

We have a thorough knowledge of how the VA establishes disability ratings, and we have studied the evidence for illnesses Veterans have suffered from exposure to burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and other deployments to the Middle East and Africa. We have helped establish new VA law with past cases, and we want to make the system work for you.

We do not charge disabled Veterans any fee for legal work unless we help them secure benefits through a newly established or increased VA disability rating. Contact us today for a free review of your claim. We are Veterans helping Veterans. We can show you the way forward.