Burn pits have been described as the post-9/11 generation’s Agent Orange. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as much as 250 tons of trash a day were burned with jet fuel in huge pits the size of football fields, spewing toxic fumes and carcinogens into the air.
Many veterans who worked and lived near toxic burn pits have gone on to develop cancer and respiratory diseases. Unfortunately, getting VA disability benefits for illnesses caused by burn pits has been an uphill battle for these vets. That looks to be changing. This month the VA created a fast-track to disability compensation for veterans who developed asthma, sinitus, or rhinitus after being exposed to burn pits.
Note: If you had asthma when you entered the service, you can still receive disability benefits if your asthma got worse.
When an illness is fast-tracked that means the VA presumes a service-connection when processing your claim, which lowers the amount of evidence you need to provide. This is good news for veterans. It can be challenging to prove a direct service connection for toxic exposures, such as burn pits in the Middle East or Agent Orange in Vietnam. The Agent Orange presumptive list, for example, includes 17 diseases that were added — by the VA or Congressional mandate — over a period of thirty years.
We’re at the very beginning of the process with presumptive benefits for burn pit exposure. Up til now, the burden has been on veterans and their advocates to prove a direct service connection. Under the new VA rule, if you operated near burn pits in what the VA calls the Southwest Asia theater or operations from 1900 to the present and later developed asthma, sinitus, or rhinitus, you’re entitled to disability compensation without having to provide any additional evidence.
Where Were Burn Pits Used?
Starting in the 1990s, private military contractors burned garbage, medical waste, batteries, plastics, paint, and many other toxins in vast open-air pits. These burn pits were often located close to living quarters, a recipe for toxic exposure. The Southwest Asia theater of operations refers to the countries in the Middle East and North Africa where burn pits were used to dispose of toxic materials and trash throughout the first Gulf War and the post-9/11 wars. Those countries (and their coastlines) are:
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
Presumptive benefits also apply to veterans who served in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria or Djibouti from Sept. 19, 2001, to now. To qualify, the conditions must have manifested within 10 years of a veteran’s deployment.
Map of Southwest Asia and North Africa showing countries and waterways where burn pits were used to dispose of trash and toxic materials
What Diseases Are Caused by Burn Pits?
When trash is burned it produces dioxin, the cancer-causing chemical found in Agent Orange. One analysis conducted on dust samples from Camp Victory in Iraq found hazardous levels of copper, iron, and titanium particles, according to a New Republic report.
Veterans who operated near burn pits have been diagnosed with cancer, respiratory diseases from asthma to COPD, and lung diseases at abnormally young ages. These vets have connected their illnesses with exposure to the toxic fumes. They’ve tried to get benefits and health care through the VA, but the department has denied many claims, citing insufficient evidence. As a result, veterans have had to prove direct service connection on a case-by-case basis.
The establishment of presumptive benefits for asthma, sinitus and rhinitus is a small victory for veterans and their advocates. There is much more to come, but it may take some time before other illnesses are fast-tracked for disability compensation. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have introduced sweeping bills that would fast-track twelve diseases linked to burn pits for benefits. The proposed list includes:
- Asthma (diagnosed after service or aggravated by burn pits)
- Cancer of any type
- Chronic bronchitis
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
- Granulomatous disease
- Interstitial lung disease
- Pulmonary fibrosis
The bill Tom Tillis (R-NC) introduced aims to expand research on toxic exposures and change the way the VA deals with them, lowering the burden of proof that is currently placed on veterans to prove direct service-connection.
Few would deny that the VA’s process for adding conditions to the presumptive list is fast enough. Veterans exposed to burn pits are suffering. Some are 100% disabled. The need for help is urgent. With two bills in the works and veterans advocates like Burn Pits 360 keeping the heat on the VA, it’s only a matter of time before more illnesses are added to the presumptive list.
Get Benefits for Burn Pit Exposure Today
Asthma, sinitus and rhinitus from burn pit exposure are now presumed to be service-connected, as long as you can prove you lived or worked near a documented burn pit.
If you suffer from any other conditions or illnesses that you believe are connected to toxic exposure, such as cancer or emphysema, you are entitled to disability benefits, and you don’t have to wait for the VA or Congress to get its act together. You can file a claim and provide proof of direct service-connection.
You also have the right to appeal a denied claim. If your burn pit-related asthma claim was previously denied, winning your appeal should be straightforward and swift.
The VA-accredited claims at the Leak Veteran Services have helped countless veterans across the United States navigate the claims process, appeal denied claims, and get the benefits they deserve. To schedule a free consultation, give us a call at 1-888-573-7838, or fill out this quick form to get started. We look forward to learning about your unique situation and helping out in any way we can.