Military service members and private military contractors who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have joined toxic exposure class-action burn pit lawsuits in recent years after developing severe illness. Burn Pit Lawsuits have been filed against specific military contractors as well as the government for failing to protect veterans from preventable toxic exposure.
Thousands of veterans have claimed that they were made ill by the continual use of burn pits within bases and camps in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hazardous materials, some of which were not authorized to be burned—like tires, batteries, medical waste—were placed in burn pits, and placed veterans at an increased risk of neurological problems, cancers and other health issues.
Joe Lyon is an experienced Veteran Affairs lawyer and Toxic Tort Attorney reviewing burn pit lawsuits and VA injury allegations for plaintiffs nationwide.
What is a Burn Pit?
The military bases the United States maintained in Iraq and Afghanistan created a lot of waste. Huge quantities of unsorted waste, including hazardous waste, medical waste, and human waste, were burned in open-air pits at military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Exposure to the toxic fumes from burn pits is alleged to have caused service members and civilian contractors to suffer serious respiratory related injuries.
On some bases, veterans complained of a constant burning plastic smell lingering in the air. Some soldiers began coughing up dark material and were diagnosed with asthma and more serious respiratory illnesses.
In 2010, the Department of Defense banned burn pits and other improper waste disposal methods, but thousands of soldiers had already been exposed to toxins and may have developed chronic diseases and related cancers.
Cancers and certain kinds of tumors can be linked to breathing toxic fumes from burn pits and open fires on American military bases since 2001. Some VA advocates are calling burn pit exposure the new generation’s Agent Orange. As it stands, private companies cannot be held responsible for burn pit injury, though VA attorneys are still battling on behalf of injured veterans.
Many government officials have not denied that burn pits may be related to veteran cancer cases, though the evidence is still difficult to process on a large scale. Pentagon officials acknowledge that toxic substances from burn pit emissions may pose health risks.
Some doctors and oncologists, however, are certain of the link. Cases of lung cancer, unexplained malignancies, unexplained shortness of breath, and constrictive bronchiolitis, an incurable disease stemming from tiny particles lodged in the airways, are more and more common, and in veterans with no history of smoking.
Burn Pit Exposure Illness & Symptoms
Burn Pits are associated with an increased risk of asthma and emphysema as well as certain cancers and chronic diseases. Tissue samples from veterans lungs in many cases show evidence of constrictive bronchiolitis, a disease characterized by particles lodged in the airways, which doctors call “clearly inhalational.” Exposure to harmful toxins in Iraq and Afghanistan may result in the following symptoms:
Camp Speicher aka Al Sahra Airfield (formerly FOB)
COB Meade, Camp Liberty
FOB Caldwell, Kirkuk
FOB Endurance, Qayyarah Airfield West/Saddam Air Base
FOB Freedom, Kirkuk
FOB Gabe, Baqubah
FOB Marez, Mosul
FOB Summerall (Bayji and Taji)
FOB Sykes (Tall’ Afar)
FOB Warrior, Kirkuk
Green Zone or International Zone
Kut Al Hayy Airbase
Q-West, Qayyarah Airfield West/Saddam Air Base
Talil Air Base (now is Ali Air Base)
Bagram Air Base
Camp Bastion Airfield
FOB Fenty, Jalalabad
Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans commonly claim injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, lost limbs and toxic exposure that can lead to various health issues in the future, including cancers and permanent respiratory conditions.
Burn pits were commonplace in Iraq and Afghanistan—burning a large number of toxic materials—and veterans on military bases near burn pits were forcibly exposed which directly led to injury.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has been reluctant to honor VA burn pit disability benefits, though in recent months, lawmakers have been forced to deal with the serious health issue of thousands of veterans.
Burn pits were used to dispose trash and refuse in giant dumps ignited by gasoline and jet fuel. In the last twenty years, the Department of Veterans Affairs only granted around 2,300 VA burn pit disability claims, and the vast majority of toxic exposure injury claims have been rejected.
About 44 percent of VA burn pit disability claims have been denied because official diagnosis is difficult and sometimes impossible to directly link to a specific inhalation event. But since burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan were so common, like the one at Balad Air Base which burned 24 hours a day, it is becoming increasingly difficult to deny that burn pit exposure had no serious health effects on soldiers.
VA Airborne Hazard Claims
The VA has updated and expanded the eligibility of burn pit and airborne hazard claims for active service members.
An “airborne hazard” refers to any sort of contaminant or potentially toxic substance exposed to through the air during military service. While on active duty, military service members may have been exposed to a number of airborne hazards including:
Smoke and fumes from open burn pits
Sand, dust, and particulate matter
General air pollution common in certain countries
Fuel, aircraft exhaust, and other mechanical fumes
Smoke from oil well fires
The countries and bodies of water now included in the VA Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry include:
Depending on a variety of factors, military service members may experience long-term health effects, and VA-covered presumptive conditions including:
Head cancer of any type
Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx or trachea
Salivary gland-type tumors and adenocarcinoma of the trachea
Adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung
Large cell carcinoma of the lung
Salivary gland-type tumors of the lung
Sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung
Typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung
Any respiratory cancer
Asthma diagnosed after service
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
The following disability compensation benefits are available to Veterans:
Disability Compensation – a monthly monetary benefit paid to Veterans who are disabled by an injury or disease that was incurred in or aggravated by active military service.
Automobile Allowance – financial assistance provided to help eligible severely disabled Servicemembers and Veterans purchase or adapt an automobile to accommodate their disabilities
Clothing Allowance – annual stipend(s) provided to disabled Veterans who have unique clothing needs as a result of a service-connected disability or injury.
Specially Adapted Housing/ Special Home Adaptation Grants – provides monetary benefits to adapt or obtain suitable housing for eligible severely disabled Veterans
Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI) – provides life insurance coverage to Veterans who have been given a VA rating for a new service-connected disability in the last two years. Totally disabled Veterans are eligible for free insurance premiums and have the opportunity to purchase additional insurance
Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI) – provides mortgage life insurance protection to disabled Veterans who have been approved for a VA Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant
Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) – provides educational and training services to Veterans with service-connected illnesses and injuries to prepare for, obtain, and maintain suitable employment
Education Assistance – provides education benefits to Veterans to assist with obtaining a degree or with pursuing other eligible education and training
Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) – provides assistance to survivors or dependents of Veterans to obtain a degree
Disability compensation is a monthly benefit paid to Veterans who are at least 10% disabled because of injuries or diseases that were incurred in or aggravated during active duty or active duty for training. A disability can apply to physical conditions, such as a chronic knee condition, as well as a mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you were on inactive duty for training, the disability must have resulted from injury, heart attack, or stroke. Your discharge from service must have been under other than dishonorable conditions. Compensation varies depending on the degree of your disability.
If you have dependents, an additional allowance may be added if your combined disability is rated 30% or greater. Your compensation may be offset if you receive military retirement pay, disability severance pay, or separation incentive payments.
VA presumes that some disabilities are due to military service. You may be eligible to receive service-connected disability benefits if you have a qualifying disability associated with certain conditions of service, such as:
» Former Prisoners of War » Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange » Gulf War Veterans with undiagnosed illnesses and medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses.
A service-connected disability is related to an injury or disease that developed during or was aggravated while on active duty or active duty for training. VA also pays disability compensation for disabilities resulting from injury, heart attack, or stroke that occurred during inactive duty training.
VA disability benefits depend on your level of disability and stats of dependents. You can calculate what you think you may deserve at the VA Web site: https://www.va.gov/disability/compensation-rates/veteran-rates/