Military Veterans deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa since 2001 know about the large burn pits used for refuse disposal at forward operating bases (FOBs). Toxic smoke that rose from burn pit smoke contained substances that can cause a variety of illnesses to Veterans who were exposed to the smoke.
The Veterans Administration acknowledges that toxins in burn pit smoke may affect the skin. Veterans who now suffer from certain skin conditions and have a history of burn pit exposure during military service may qualify for VA disability benefits.
Berry Law can assist and advise Veterans who have not been able to obtain the VA benefits they deserve for skin conditions caused by burn pit exposure.
Berry Law works with Veterans across the country to appeal denied VA claims and to increase disability ratings. Our attorneys, most of whom are military Veterans, will work to ensure that you are receiving full VA disability benefits for any resulting skin condition from burn pit exposure while serving in the U.S. military’s Southwest Asia theater of operations.
Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation and discuss how we can assist you.
Were You Exposed to a Burn Pit at Your FOB?
Military burn pits were large, open waste demolition sites located within camp perimeters. They were common at forward operating bases (FOBs) in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of the Southwest Asia theater of military operations.
The VA has conceded that Veterans deployed to designated covered locations during specified periods were exposed to certain toxic substances, chemicals, and hazards because of burn pits operated by military and/or contracted personnel.
A bill introduced to Congress acknowledged exposure among Veterans serving in:
- Iraq from August 2, 1990, to February 28, 1991, and from March 19, 2003, to a date to be determined (TBD) when burn pits were no longer used
- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar from August 2, 1990, to a date TBD
And from 9/11 to a date TBD in:
- Other locations as set forth by the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.
The Open Burn Pit Registry, which is used to collect health data from Veterans, is open to Veterans who were deployed to the Southwest Asia theater of operations any time after August 2, 1990, or Afghanistan or Djibouti on or after September 11, 2001.
This includes deployments for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm (ODS/S), Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Enduring Freedom (OEF) and New Dawn (OND) and service in:
- Saudi Arabia
- Gulf of Aden
- Gulf of Oman
- United Arab Emirates
- Waters of the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Red Sea
- Airspace above the locations listed above.
If you served in any of these areas and now suffer from a skin rash or skin condition for which you are receiving medical care and you think was caused by your exposure to a burn pit smoke, you may be eligible for VA benefits. However, whether the VA will provide benefits for an illness linked to burn pit exposure is determined on a case-by-case basis. So, it is important that you provide the VA with as much evidence as possible to connect your skin condition to your military service.
Common Symptoms of Burn Pit Exposure
The military operated burn pits to dispose of nearly every kind of waste that a forward operating base produces, including wood, plastics, food, munitions, construction and maintenance supplies, and medical and human waste.
A U.S. Army Public Health Center fact sheet about the notoriously large burn pit at Joint Base Balad (aka Camp Anaconda) says, “Open burning of solid waste on Joint Base Balad generated complaints and health concerns amongst servicemembers from 2003 until open burning ceased in 2009.”
It says further, “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. It is plausible that servicemembers 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….”
The VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center says that, “Exposures to high levels of specific, individual chemicals that may be present in burn pit smoke have been shown to cause long-term effects on the skin” as well as to other bodily systems. Some servicemembers have complained of skin rashes and itching.
Proving Your Skin Condition is from Burn Pit Smoke Exposure
The VA pays monthly 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 (10%, 20%, 30%, etc.) based primarily on a review of service and medical records provided with the Veteran’s claim. A 100% disability rating indicates total disability and provides the highest basic monthly compensation available to a disabled Veteran. However, some Veterans may be eligible for Special Monthly Compensation, which is additional compensation available for Veterans in specific circumstances.
For some medical conditions or exposures, there is a presumed service connection, which means the Veterans does not have to provide actual proof that an incident during service caused the disability. Some conditions with a presumptive service connection automatically result in a disability rating as high as 100%. This does not exist for burn pit exposure. Disability claims based on burn pit exposure are judged on their own merits.
But the VA does recognize that exposure to chemical or other environmental hazards while on active duty may lead to skin disorders Skin conditions are rated according to the VA Schedule of Ratings Disabilities under Section 4.118, under diagnostic codes 7800 to 7833.
To demonstrate that a skin condition is service-connected, a Veteran must provide the VA evidence of a:
- Current skin condition diagnosis
- Exposure or incident in service that caused the skin condition
- Medical opinion that the Veteran’s skin condition was caused by military service
For certain skin conditions, the VA has adopted a presumptive service connection. For example, Gulf War veterans with dermatitis or certain other chronic undiagnosed skin disorders can attain a presumptive service connection for Gulf War Syndrome if the condition can be rated at 10% or higher and manifests by December 31, 2021.
It may be possible to prove a service connection between a skin condition and burn pit exposure based on military records that demonstrate service near a burn pit and your medical records.
Exposure to chemicals that are absorbed through the skin can cause numerous diseases that adversely affect an individual’s health and capacity to work or perform other activities. Paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, jet fuel, and similar products that were incinerated in burn pits are considered hazardous wastes that have corrosive or toxic characteristics that can cause physical injury and illness.
How to Add a Burn Pit-Related Skin Condition to Your VA Benefit
If you believe exposure to an open military burn pit caused your disabling skin condition, you can apply for initial Veterans’ disability benefits online at the VA website or complete and mail VA Form 21-526 to your local VA Regional Office (VARO).
A disabled Veteran who is already receiving benefits may ask the VA for a review of his or her disability rating at any time to change their rating for a new or worsening condition. A Veteran also has the right to appeal a denied benefit application if he or she does so within a year of the VA’s decision.
If it has been more than a year since the VA has granted disability benefits, the Veteran must reopen their claim. 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 the Vet’s 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. Berry Law can help you appeal your VA decision and get the disability rating you deserve.
Whether you have filed an appeal or requested a disability rating review, the VA must consider the following evidence:
- Medical records from a VA or military hospital that reflect treatment or hospitalization.
- Records from private or public medical facilities that indicate the Veteran’s condition has grown worse.
Our Veterans’ disability attorneys at Berry Law can help you file an appeal with the VA or seek an increase in your disability rating if you have a skin condition that is connected to your exposure to burn pits and/or service in the Gulf War. Or, if your condition has worsened since a previous disability rating was issued, we can help you request an increased rating.
Our legal team helps Veterans appeal adverse decisions for their VA disability claims. Many clients file appeals because the VA has denied that their medical condition was service-connected. Others appeal because they believe their disability rating is too low and does not accurately reflect the severity of their disability. Either way, we are here to help you get the disability rating you are entitled to.
Fighting for VA Disability Benefit for Burn Pit Exposure
Let Berry Law review your medical records and service history if you have not been able to add a skin condition caused by exposure to military burn pits to your VA disability rating. Our attorneys have extensive experience helping Veterans file appeals that ultimately increase their disability ratings. We understand how the VA establishes disability ratings, and we have studied the evidence for skin conditions Veterans have contracted after exposure to burn pit smoke.
We do not charge disabled Veterans for legal assistance unless we win their VA appeal. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation review of your claim file and a discussion of increasing your VA disability rating. We are Veterans helping Veterans. Don’t go to battle alone.