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Diseases Vets Get from Burn Pit Exposure

What Are Symptoms of Exposure to Military Burn Pits?

Veterans often suffer devastating symptoms and poor health after being exposed to military burn pits and toxic smoke.  Additionally, burn pit exposure can cause many fatal diseases, including many types cancer and catastrophic respiratory conditions. Still, from 2007 to 2020, the Department of Veterans Affairs denied around 80% of all disability claims associated with burn pit exposure

The VA cited scant and “inconclusive evidence” over airborne hazards from burn pits. The VA can’t say that veterans suffering rare respiratory cancers can blame burn pits for these military servicemember illnesses and long-term health consequences. VA health care eligibility has been hampered, keeping health care for burn pit injuries at bay for many veterans suffering as burn pit victims.

What is a Burn Pit?

While they were used before, the practice of using burn pits became more common during the post-9/11 wars. The US military would collect medical waste, discarded weapons and hardware, human waste, etc. and collect them in a large open place.

They would then pour fuel on the entire area through aircraft and set the whole thing on fire. These fires would continue for weeks if not days due to new materials being added to them over time by the soldiers. You could call them giant waste disposal hells.

As wind direction changed, the soldiers would breathe in the toxic fumes from the burn pits. Recent discoveries have revealed how these harmful gases and chemicals have caused many types of cancers in veterans.

How Burn Pit Smoke Affects Veterans

The smoke from burn pits contains particulate matters, and it was evident when a DoD air sample from a burn pit was studied. These matters are dangerous to humans, especially their respiratory system.

Some of the most dangerous substances this smoke contains include furans, volatile organic compounds, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The Iraqi Joint Base Balad saw a huge burn pit area that encompassed at least ten acres.  Sampled air taken by DOD experts proved particulate matter was present, including:

  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Toxic organic halogenated dioxins
  • Furans
  • More.

Although the DOD gives respiratory cancer more focus, many experts thinl smoke causes several cardiovascular, nervous system and skin-related malaise in service members

Here is a list of more presumptive conditions related to toxic substances:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx
  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea
  • Adenocarcinoma of the trachea
  • Salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea
  • Adenosquamous carcinoma of the lungs
  • Large cell carcinoma of the lung
  • Salivary gland-type tumors of the lungs
  • Sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lungs.

Shockingly, burn pit smoke contains TCDD, a dioxin that made agent orange dangerous too. This only means that many veterans might have several illnesses affecting them due to burn pit exposures other than those that recently made it to the presumptive benefits list.

To help make more conditions presumptive, Paul Ehline is currently drafting legislation, which could greatly benefit from input from other personal injury lawyers.

Open Burn Pit Registry

Although the VA refuses to recognize burn pit-related health conditions as a presumptive disability status, the VA has set up an Open Burn Pit Registry. But the VA announced that eligible veterans and active duty service members with breathing difficulties (Ex: chronic bronchitis from serving in the Southwest Asia Theater, etc.) can fill out a questionnaire (The Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry). The VA also said you could fill out an optional health evaluation to assist the DOD and VA. The goal is a better understanding of the long-term effects of burn pit exposures and attendant airborne hazards.

This health evaluation is a free benefit to which veterans are entitled. This exam is not a Compensation & Pension (C&P) exam and is not required to receive VA benefits.  Regardless, the health exam and the burn pit registry questionnaire can establish some foundation as to the validity of the veteran’s claim. Also, VA notes from the evaluation act as supporting research for examining the dilatory effects of airborne hazards. Since there is no presumption for military burn pit cases, the VA adjudicated them haphazardly.

Common Items Incinerated in Burn Pits:

  • Wood
  • Petroleum
  • Food (usually rotten)
  • Aluminum Cans
  • Fecal Matter or other human waste
  • Discarded weapons and ammunition
  • Rubber
  • Plastics
  • Medical waste
  • Lubrication Products
  • and Other Dangerous Chemicals

However, this list of airborne hazards is not exhaustive; other waste items and materials may have potentially been incinerated in military burn pits.

Military burn pits result in large infernos of burning feces and toxins, sending thick billows of black, toxic smoke into the rancid air, irritating skin and lungs. 

Marine Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller said burn pits smelled like “bacon and eggs” after he adjusted to the smell. The wind can then carry this toxic, billowing smoke for miles.  As a result, more people are impacted by the toxic fumes than just those near the toxic exposure from open burn pits.

Where Were Burn Pits Used

It is important to know that burn pits are usually associated with the wars in Gulf Countries, especially the ones fought by the US after 9/11. However, burn pit exposure was common even before 9/11.

In addition to Afghanistan and Iraq, burn have been commonly utilized by the military in Qatar, Syria, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other regions in the Southwest Asia Theater etc. The hazardous exposures open air pits in Iraq and Afghanistan became a health care risk not only for the military but the citizens as well.

Minor Symptoms Resulting from Burn Pit Exposure

Veterans who have served in the countries stated above should not take any symptoms. These minor symptoms might point to a serious illness inside your body resulting from one or multiple toxic exposures.

Some symptoms that result from burn pit exposure include the following:

  • You breathe with difficulty
  • Your eyes become red
  • Your eyes become itchy
  • Your skin becomes itchy
  • You have a burning sensation in your throat
  • You keep coughing

While military veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11 should not take these symptoms lightly, they should be even more concerned if they have other pre-existing conditions.

Some of the pre-existing conditions that would become worse due to pit exposure include sinusitis, rhinitis, asthma and other mild or serious allergic reactions in the body.

Here is another list of long-term, short-term, mild, and serious conditions that can result from burn pit exposure.

  • Skin Cancer
  • Infertility in Women
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Eczema
  • Throat Discomfort and Infections
  • Constrictive Bronchiolitis
  • Migraines
  • Crohn’s Diseases
  • Leukemia
  • Skin Bruises and Lesions
  • Impacted Functions of the Central Nervous System.

There is a long list of presumptive conditions related to your military service. Here are some of them from the VA’s official website. You can visit VA’s web page for Airborne Hazards to read all the presumptive conditions.

  • Pleuritis
  • Lung large cell carcinoma
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Emphysema
  • Neck cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Brain cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Glioblastoma
  • Cancer of the gastrointestinal region.

In addition to these, there are some conditions arising from pit exposure that may disappear over time as per the Veterans Affairs.

Burn Pit Exposure and the Respiratory System

The major operations that resulted in exposing more than 2 million vets to burn pits were namely Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Respiratory issues and lung diseases have been common in veterans who returned to their country from Iraq and Afghanistan. Bronchitis and Asthma are among the conditions that many have experienced after serving in the military in those regions.

It is said that two other conditions that both affect the lungs may be associated with military men and women’s burn pit exposure i.e. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.

Both are rare conditions with the former making it hard for veterans to breathe due to large mucus buildup in the lungs. The latter, on the other hand, scars a part of the lung. Unfortunately, the latter currently does not have a permanent solution or cure.

Benefits for Burn Pit Exposure and Veterans Affairs

It can be said that the VA disability benefits have been elusive for millions of exposed veterans for many years. Many vets had to come down to protesting in scorching heat of the sun to fight for their VA disability compensation.

Why were VA benefits delayed so much? Were veterans exposed to burn pits only making it all up? Was there no service connection proving their illness was a result of their military service?

The truth is that cancers related to burn pit exposure have not been studied so well. While agent orange exposure has had many studies to prove service connection, not a lot of studies have revealed a direct link between pit exposure and various types of cancers.

For example, a study to find connection between burn pit exposure and respiratory conditions concluded that evidence to favor this link was weak. It doesn’t mean there is no connection as the presence of cancer-causing chemicals has been proven from a sample collected by the department of veterans affairs itself from one of its burn pits.

Also, the overall health and environmental effects of open burn pits and their toxic smoke can also not be ignored. It is clear from the recent steps taken by VA that is accepts those dangers. For this reason, it has now reduced the number of burn pits, started regulating the to-be-burned materials, specified certain times and locations for burn pits.

Applying for VA Health Benefits for Burn Pit Exposure

You can apply for VA disability and get a rating from 0 to 100. It is important that you know the presumptive health conditions caused by burn pit exposure so you can shorten the application process.

Here’s what you will have to arrange or prove to apply for the benefits.

  • Your discharge wasn’t OTH (other than honorable)
  • You actively served at a location that resulted in exposure to burn pits
  • You have one of the conditions considered presumptive by VA

Make sure your doctor writes a clear statement that your condition has service connection.

Paul Ehline Ride to Show Your Respect

To show respect to your military men and women, or any veterans exposed to hazardous materials in many ways, you can become a part of Michael Ehline’s annual ride for his brave marine father, Paul Ehline.

Leathernecks MC are a constant part of this annual ride and it’s conducted to honor Paul’s services in the military and to spread awareness on veterans suffering from cancer due to their military service.

Those interested in donating can visit the GoFundMe page or those who know a veteran in need can tell them about the ride and Michael Ehline, who can help them get in touch with the people who can help.

PER Will Fight for Your Right

Just like veterans, other people can also find themselves in similar scenarios i.e. when they end up in a motorcycle accident or other accident that results in personal injury. While he spreads awareness about disability benefits, Michael’s primary duty is to help people with personal injury cases.

Always make sure that you ride with safety, but if you still end up being in an accident, you can contact us to get the compensation you deserve.

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