Benefits for Soldiers Exposed to Burn Pits

Many soldiers who have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have begun to express concern over numerous health issues they are now experiencing. Many soldiers, as well as numerous doctors are of the same opinion, which is that exposure to airborne hazards and open burn pits are the source of the problem. These burn pits are extensively used in both Afghanistan and Iraq to dispose of waste products and may contain such things as painted metal or wood furniture, Styrofoam containers or cups, papers, plastic and rubber materials and even medical waste products. Perhaps one of the most disturbing items that can be found in these burn pits is actual human waste!

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard Carmichael, with the Warfighter Express Services Team assigned to Combat Logistics Regiment 2, disposes of trash at the burn pit at Forward Operating Base Zeebrugge, Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 6, 2013.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard Carmichael, with the Warfighter Express Services Team assigned to Combat Logistics Regiment 2, disposes of trash at the burn pit at Forward Operating Base Zeebrugge, Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 6, 2013.

Congressman Tim Bishop has urged the VA to expand assistance to veterans exposed to open air burn pits. Unfortunately, there is no formal protocol in place to support troops who claim to be ill due to burn pit exposure. Fortunately, in 2012 the Social Security Administration made it easier to collect disability benefits by adding constrictive bronchiolitis to their list of eligible illnesses, thus making medical treatment and Social Security benefits far more accessible to our soldiers. It is noteworthy to add that there has been a significant increase in constrictive bronchiolitis and its symptoms among veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I would like to take a moment to clarify what the military deems as an acceptable illness in order to collect disability benefits. Disability benefits are a tax-free monetary benefit paid to veterans with disabilities that are a result of disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service. This may also include post service disabilities that are considered to be related illnesses incurred during active service. To check your eligibility or to file a claim for disability benefits, visit their website at www.benefits.va.gov/compensation.

It is interesting to note that since September 11, 2001, firefighters have seen a rapid decline of lung function, much the same as is seen in our soldiers who served in the Middle East. The IAFF Believes firefighters to be at a high risk for all types of lung problems due to the airborne chemical toxins and irritants they encounter through their profession. In the US, state law presumes certain conditions to be job-related. For firefighters, lung and other cancers are now acknowledged as a presumptive condition, making it much easier to collect accidental disability pensions.

It is sad to say that for American soldiers this task is far from easy. Although a soldier can apply for benefits through the VA’s website or even visiting your local VA facility or office, it may still take several years to receive such benefits since there is no direct protocol in place. There currently are a large number of soldiers who feel their health has been greatly compromised due to burn pits. The soldiers also have medical documentation so that they may prove their point to the Department of Defense as well as the Veterans Administration. They now have joined together and are using the services of attorneys such as Woods & Woods – The Veterans Firm, 1-888-959-9908, as well as various other firms throughout the country in what may be considered a class action suit against the government so that they may recoup the monetary and health hardships they have had to endure. It remains to be seen what the outcome shall be.

The VA has also created a burn pit registry. If you’ve been exposed to a burn pit, I highly encourage you to register at the site: https://veteran.mobilehealth.va.gov/AHBurnPitRegistry/#page/home.

Teresa Agostino

Originally from Canada, Terri moved to the US at 16 and joined the Army Reserves at 17. She went active Army in 1991, and spent almost 2 years in Iraq as a program analyst for the Army Corps of Engineers. She currently works for the VA as an Accounts Management Supervisor. Terri has her MBA in HR management.
Teresa Agostino

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