Toxic Burn Pit Exposure
Bergmann & Moore recognizes that many Veterans who deployed overseas since the start of the Gulf War in 1990 may have become ill and suffered disabilities after exposure to hazardous toxic waste when tons trash was burned in hundreds of open air pits in and around Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military used the open-air combustion as a form of waste management for large-scale refuse disposal because there was no sewage or trash collection service at most U.S. military installations in the war zone during the past two decades. Roads were mined with improvised explosive devices, making hauling trash away from a forward operating base (FOB) or other location both dangerous and expensive.
226 Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan
At one point during 2010, there were at least active 226 burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, according to the New York Times. The largest burn pit was about 10 acres wide. At the peak of burn pit fires, more than 400 tons of trash were consumed by flames every day, according to Fox News. Items burned included human waste, dead animals, medical waste, plastics, batteries, and nearly everything else disposed of at military sites in the war zone.
Burn Pit Exposure Symptoms
Unfortunately, the military did not provide breathing protection to our service members living and fighting near the huge plumes of putrid, harmful black smoke that billowed from the burn pit fires every day.
The burn pits released pollution, including particulate matter and neurotoxins, into the air inside nearly every U.S. installation in the war zone. As a result of the constant clouds of burnt waste, Veterans raised concerns that burn pit toxic exposures may be related to acute and chronic conditions such as cancers, sinusitis, bronchitis, headaches, lesions, asthma, abdominal pain, chronic bronchiolitis, chronic infections, and more.
In 2014, VA confirmed that “smoke from these pits contained substances that may have short- and long-term health effects, especially for those who were exposed for long periods or those more prone to illness such as individuals with pre-existing asthma or other lung or heart conditions.”
Photos: U.S. Department of Defense
Service member tosses trash into an open-air burn pit. More than 124,000 Veterans signed up for VA’s burn pit registry
Burn Pit Registry
In response to concerns raised by Veterans, families, and Congress, in 2013, VA created a new Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry to provide Veterans with a free medical exam and as a source for future research. As of July 2017, more than 124,000 Veterans signed up for the registry.
Be aware that signing up for the Burn Pit Registry does not start a VA disability claim. Furthermore, VA has not yet concluded that any medical conditions are associated with burn pit exposures on a presumptive basis (such as Agent Orange exposures for Vietnam War Veterans). That means obtaining service connection can be difficult for a Veteran or surviving spouse.
Free Medical Care for Deployed Veterans
While claims may be a challenge, VA opened the door to free care for Veterans who deployed to a war zone since 2003. Under VA’s new benefit, “eligible combat Veterans will have free medical care and medications for any condition that may be related to their service in theater” at VA for five years after discharge from active duty.
Research on potential diseases from this exposure is still ongoing. You can find more information about medical research on VA’s Public Health web page, Burn Pits.
When: The Gulf War era deployment period began August 2, 1990, and it continues through the present.
Where: The Gulf War era deployment locations:
Free Burn Pit Exposure Consultation
If you deployed to a war zone during the Gulf War era, and you filed a VA disability claim for a condition you believe may be related to toxic burn pits, please contact Bergmann & Moore for a FREE consultation.
Photos: U.S. Department of Defense
Military plane flies over a war zone burn pit, where up to 400 tons of toxic trash were burned every day
Agent Orange Exposure
One specific disease, Glioblastoma Multiforme, is a type of malignant brain tumor, often found in veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during service. However, VA has not yet acknowledged that these tumors are due to Agent Orange exposure and therefore they are not on VA’s presumptive list. Sadly, when a veteran passes away from a non-presumptive condition such as Glioblastoma, their surviving spouse is often unable to obtain benefits on their own.
Burn Pit Exposure
Bergmann & Moore recognizes that many veterans from the Gulf War era, Operating Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation New Dawn (OND), and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) may have been exposed to hazardous materials that were burned as a form of waste management.
The Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) provides Veterans with five options on what to do when you receive a Board denial. In our experience there is only ONE reasonable option—appeal the BVA decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals to Veterans Claims (CAVC).
Dependency and Indemnity Claims
In the event a veteran passes away, their surviving family members may be entitled to benefits from the VA. Most commonly, this would be the Veteran’s surviving spouse. In order to qualify for DIC benefits, the surviving spouse must show that the Veteran died from a condition or illness related to the veteran’s military service. In some cases, veterans may have already been service connected for the condition that caused their death. In other cases, the surviving spouse is required to prove that the cause of death, if not already service-connected, was due to the veteran’s service.
Even veterans who aren’t rated 100-percent disabled may be eligible to be paid at the 100-percent monetary rate. VA awards individual unemployability, often referred to as total disability for individual unemployability (TDIU), when a veteran’s service connected conditions prohibit him or her from maintaining gainful employment. This benefit is separate from Social Security Disability Income.
Military Sexual Trauma
Military sexual assaults occur with both men and women and often go unreported. Many Veterans believe they do not qualify for Veterans’ benefits for military sexual trauma if they did not report the assault when it happened, but that is not true. There is no time limit for a Veteran to file a claim for a military sexual trauma, even if it is decades later.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), also referred to as posttraumatic stress or posttraumatic stress syndrome, is caused by experiencing a traumatic event. Even though the event has passed, many people continue to experience symptoms for months or even years afterward.
Once VA grants service connection for a disability, they then assign a rating based on the severity of the condition. The rating assigned correlates with a monetary amount to be paid monthly. In most cases, the veteran is compensated retroactively back to the effective date of the claim. This means that VA must pay the monthly amount for the disability for each month the claim was open, usually awarded in a lump sum, in addition to the monthly benefits going forward.
Veterans who were injured while in the military, or who aggravated those injuries while in the military, may be eligible for disability compensation. In some cases, compensation claims injuries are immediately obvious, such as when a service member is physically injured while on active duty. Other times, veterans don’t experience symptoms until many years after service, such as in the form of a mental health condition or cancer due to exposure of hazardous materials like Agent Orange, Burn Pits, or Asbestos.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
If a veteran sustains a head injury or full body injury during their military service, there may be longstanding effects known as residuals of a traumatic brain injury. Many veterans are unaware that they’ve even sustained a TBI because they didn’t lose consciousness during the event. Anything from a mild concussion to being thrown in an explosion may constitute a TBI.