While in Iraq, the U.S. military used burn pits to dispose of nearly every kind of waste found on a military base — from wood and plastics to medical and human waste. The burn pit at Joint Base Balad, also known as Camp Anaconda, was infamous for its size and its close proximity to base operations.
Smoke from the mix of hazardous chemicals burning in the burn pits blew across military bases and into living areas.
The Veterans Administration admits that toxins in burn pit smoke may have affected the skin, eyes, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, gastrointestinal tract and internal organs of service members. But the VA insists that “research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits.”
At this point, the VA does not automatically pay disability benefits to Veterans for the harmful effects of burn pits in Iraq. However, a Veteran may qualify for disability benefits if he or she can show exposure to burn pits in Iraq and provide evidence that the burn pit exposure has caused their disability.
Berry Law Firm handles VA disability appeals for Veterans who have disabilities caused by harmful exposure to burn pits while deployed to Iraq. Berry Law Firm helps Veterans across the country appeal denied VA claims and seek increases in disability ratings, and we’re your fire support team to battle the VA. Our attorneys, most of whom are military Veterans, are ready to fight for you to collect the full VA disability benefits provided by law if you have been harmed by burn pit exposure in Iraq.
If you are a U.S. military Veteran who deployed to Iraq for Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation New Dawn and you have disabilities not accounted for in your current VA rating, contact Berry Law Firm for assistance today.
What is Burn Pit Exposure?
Military personnel on forward operating bases (FOBs) in Iraq were regularly exposed to the smoke from large, open-air burn pits. The pits could cover 20 acres or more.
On-site open burning was used to dispose of waste without exposing Service members to hostile fire by hauling the waste outside of the secured perimeter.
Waste products burned in these pits included:
- Discarded food
- Medical and human waste
- Metal/aluminum cans
- Munitions and other unexploded ordnance
- Petroleum and lubricant products
“Open burning of solid waste on Joint Base Balad generated complaints and health concerns amongst Service members from 2003 until open burning ceased in 2009,” the U.S. Army Public Health Command says in a fact sheet about the Joint Base Balad burn pit.
The Army’s fact sheet states, “The DOD recognizes that acute symptoms due to smoke exposure may occur, including reddened eyes, irritated respiratory passages, and cough that may persist for some time.”
The Army said it is plausible that Service members may be affected by long-term health effects, possibly due to combined exposures such as sand/dust, industrial pollutants smoke, and other compounds associated with deployment to Southwest Asia, and individual susceptibilities, such as preexisting health conditions or genetic factors.
Veterans who were closer to burn pit smoke or exposed for longer periods may be at greater risk, the VA says. Health effects depend on a number of other factors, such as the kind of waste being burned and wind direction.
However, the government also maintains that a 2011 Institute of Medicine report indicates that the high level of fine dust and pollution common in Iraq may have posed a greater danger for respiratory illnesses than exposure to burn pits.
Illnesses Caused by Exposure to Burn Pits
The VA maintains that there is not currently enough medical information to determine the potential for long-term health effects among Veterans caused by exposure to smoke from burn pits. But the VA says that, in some cases, exposures to high levels of specific individual chemicals that may have been present in burn pit smoke have been shown to cause long-term effects on the:
- Respiratory system
- Central nervous system
- Cardiovascular system
- Reproductive system
- Peripheral nervous system
- Gastrointestinal tract.
Some commonly reported conditions among Veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq include:
- Acute bronchitis
- Chronic bronchitis
- Constrictive bronchiolitis
- Esophageal cancer
- Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
- Ischemic heart disease
- Laryngeal cancer
- Lung cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Oral, nasal, and pharyngeal cancers
- Parkinson’s disease
- Prostate cancer
- Sleep apnea
A study published in September 2020, Respiratory Health Effects of Airborne Hazards Exposures in the Southwest Asia Theater of Military Operations, reviewed 27 respiratory health outcomes, including respiratory cancers, asthma, chronic bronchitis, sinusitis, and constrictive bronchiolitis. Of these 27 outcomes, none met the criteria for sufficient evidence of an association with service in the Southwest Asia theater, the study says.
The evidence for respiratory symptoms — which included chronic persistent cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing — met the criteria for suggestive evidence of an association for Veterans who served in military operations after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and in the 1990–1991 Gulf War.
Those studying the issue said existing studies about respiratory health problems among Veterans deployed to Southwest Asia have a number of limitations, and additional studies are needed to better answer whether respiratory health issues are associated with deployment.
What is the Burn Pit Registry?
You may have heard of the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. It allows eligible Veterans and Service members to document their exposures and report health concerns by completing an online questionnaire. The VA says it will use the information as part of its research into burn pit exposure.
Veterans and Service members who deployed to the Southwest Asia theater of operations on or after August 2, 1990, as well as those who deployed to Afghanistan or Djibouti after September 11, 2001, are eligible to join the registry. The Burn Pit Registry had more than 212,000 registrants as of August 2020.
The questionnaire takes about 40 minutes to complete and includes a series of questions in the following categories:
- Deployment timeframes and bases where you were stationed
- Conditions and health issues that cause difficulty with daily activities
- Current and past health symptoms
- Residential history regarding where you lived
- Occupational history about the type of work you do
- Dust, gas, vapors or fumes exposures
- Home environment and hobbies
- Health care use
Health conditions can worsen over time from additional exposures during work, and an individual’s health is greatly influenced by their lifestyle, the VA says. Your current or past jobs, hobbies, civilian exposures and lifestyle will not affect eligibility for VA benefits.
Veterans and Service members who participate in the registry can obtain a free medical exam to discuss their health with a doctor. Participation in the registry will not affect access to health care or benefits, and it is not related to the VA disability compensation claims process.
Some Veterans and Service members who join the registry may be asked to participate in additional studies that could involve questionnaires and medical exams.
Add Burn Pits Exposure to Your VA Disability Claim
The VA pays monthly disability benefits according to the severity of a Veteran’s service-connected injury or illness. Based on evidence in the Veteran’s claim, including service and medical records, a VA claims evaluator assigns 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.
For certain medical conditions or exposures, there is a presumptive service connection, which may result in a designated disability rating as high as 100%. This does not exist for burn pit exposure. Disability claims based on burn pit exposure are judged on a case-by-case basis.
A Veteran has the right to appeal a denied benefit application, and 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 granted the Veteran disability benefits, the request for a new disability rating becomes an appeal of their claim. In an appeal, the VA must consider medical records but may also require the Veteran to undergo a Compensation and Pension (C&P) medical exam.
In an appeal or disability rating review, the VA must consider medical records from the VA or military hospital that reflect treatment, hospitalization, and records from private or public medical facilities that indicate the Veteran’s condition has grown worse.
Berry Law Firm can help you file an appeal with the VA or seek an increase in your disability rating if your medical condition has worsened in a manner than can be connected to your exposure to burn pits in Iraq. While the VA does not automatically agree that a Veteran’s illness is service-connected to burn pits, it has learned that this service connection cannot be dismissed without looking at the facts of your claim.
Contact Our VA Disability Attorneys
Let our VA disability appeals attorneys at Berry Law review your medical records and your military service history to see how we can increase your VA disability rating. Our attorneys have extensive experience helping Veterans file appeals that ultimately increase their disability ratings. We know the VA rules and regulations for establishing disability ratings, and we have studied the evidence for illnesses Veterans have suffered from exposure to Iraq burn pits.
We do not charge disabled Veterans for legal work unless we recover money for the client. Contact us today for a free review of your burn pit disability appeal. We are Veterans helping Veterans. Don’t go to battle alone.