Burn Pit Exposure: A Medical & Legal Explanation

After a soldier is exposed to military burn pits, they may experience severe health issues. Sometimes these may manifest years after their tour of duty has ended. Exposure can lead to deadly diseases, including different respiratory conditions and cancer. However, there might be some legal options available for vets to help make this battle easier.

What Are Burn Pits?

Burn pits are large open-air areas of land used to dispose of waste from American bases in Afghanistan, Djibouti, and Iraq after 9/11. Rubber, plastic, as well as medical and human waste, were burned and have released poisonous chemicals into the air. This is why many veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have developed illnesses from being exposed to hazardous chemicals.


Burn Pits and Health Hazards

Iraq’s Joint Base Balad was the site of a large burn pit that spanned across more than 10 acres. Air samples taken from the Department of Defense revealed that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, toxic organic halogenated dioxins and furans, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were present in the air.

All of these harmful chemicals can damage the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, as well as the skin and dental nervous systems. Several forms of cancer have also been connected to dioxin exposure. TCDD is the main dioxin emitted from burn pits; this was also one of the most potent contaminants in Agent Orange and was linked to cancer.

Does the VA Assume Responsibility for Burn Pit Exposure?

The VA has determined service connections for some illnesses caused by exposure to Agent Orange. However, the VA has not established a presumptive connection for health conditions linked to burning pit exposure.

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Presumptive service connection – as in the case of Agent Orange – indicates that the veteran does not have to provide evidence of the connection between their health condition and the in-service event that led to the health issue.

The veteran will need to verify that they have a disability listed on the VA’s approved list of illnesses connected to Agent Orange. Also, they will need to check if they were classified as active duty and stationed at one of the bases where the VA has acknowledged the presence of Agent Orange.

Many veterans are hoping to receive presumptive service connections for burn pit cases. However, for now, these are handled on an individual basis. Nevertheless, if you are one of those affected, do not hesitate to reach out to fellow veterans who have gone through a similar situation.

Some common items burned in the pits include paint, rubber, petroleum, wood, rotten food, lubricants, aluminum cans, ammunition, and Styrofoam. This provides even more proof that the smoke that came from burning these materials could be dangerous to humans. However, this is not a complete list, and it is quite possible that more materials were disposed of unsafely.

Burn pits can also create large fires that send rancid, black smoke into the air. The wind will carry the smoke in all directions. People who are miles away from the burn pit could still be exposed to toxic chemicals.

U.S. Department of Labor Ruling

A judge with the US Department of Labor declared that exposure to burn pits was directly connected to a plaintiff’s development of lung disease in February 2018. This decision offers some support to veterans who bring their cases to court.

Common conditions and symptoms of burn pit exposure include acute myeloid leukemia, allergic rhinitis, autoimmune disorders, asthma, and several types of cancer include brain, bone, lung, kidney, and bladder. Some veterans have also developed conjunctivitis and lupus.

Seek Legal Help

You can work with a qualified personal injury lawyer to learn how to receive VA disability benefits if you are a victim of burn pit exposure. An attorney who has experienced working with veterans can explain your rights and help you receive the settlement to which you are rightfully entitled.



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