During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, many veterans and military personnel worked near open-air burn pits. Used throughout the Middle East, these burn pits served as areas of disposal for trash and waste. In addition to ordinary waste, other types of garbage were burned as well. Many of the pits burned petroleum products, batteries, plastic, paint and oil, appliances, medical and human waste, and even amputated body parts. Thousands of service members returned from duty near these pits suffering from lung and respiratory illnesses, with concern about the long-term effects of exposure to the smoke many believed to be toxic.
The black, thick smoke clouds created by the open-air burn pits hovered over the areas where military personnel worked and slept. Soldiers were exposed to this smoke 24 hours a day because waste burned in the pits around the clock, and nearly 240 tons of trash was burned each day at some Iraq and Afghanistan bases. Many veterans now suffer from lung problems, respiratory illnesses, cancers, and neurological disorders, which some researchers believe may be linked to burn pit smoke exposure.
While neither the Department of Defense (DoD) or the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have found evidence that these illnesses and health conditions are related to this exposure, both agencies study the health of service members who worked near these pits on a continual basis. Additionally, Congress had the VA provide an online posting of all burn pit locations and establish the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.
The Burn Pit Registry is a database of information—a tool that helps people who sign up be more aware of medical conditions that might be associated with burn pit smoke exposure and assists participants in being more enlightened about their own health. The registry was launched to help veterans report environmental exposures related to their military service and identify related health effects. Signing up for the registry is strictly voluntary, and those who choose to participate fill out an enrollment questionnaire. This questionnaire can be used to help direct doctor-patient discussions and identify health issues believed to be associated with active duty near these open-air burn pits.
How Does the Registry Help Me?
While participating in the registry doesn’t mean you’ll receive disability compensation for illnesses you believe are related to active service, it does provide certain benefits that may be of value to veterans and military personnel exposed to burn pits, including:
- Eligibility for a free VA medical evaluation and the opportunity to discuss your questionnaire with a VA health care provider
- Current data and information about services and ongoing health studies by the VA that could impact the type of disability claim you file
- A comprehensive summary of your health issues that can be used as a springboard for discussing medical issues with your doctor
- Current information about exposure to burn pit and airborne hazards
- Satisfaction from helping other veterans learn about illnesses and health conditions they believe are related to burn pit exposure
Dr. Stephen Hunt, the national director of VA Post-Deployment Integrated Care Initiative says, “The registry is a step forward in our ways of taking care of veterans that have been exposed to things that could be harmful.” Hunt says the registry allows for:
- Veterans to document both their concerns and symptoms in a comprehensive way
- The VA to evaluate these concerns and symptoms up front instead of years or decades later
- The VA to have an opportunity to work long term with veterans
Hunt goes on to say, "Ultimately, our goal in the VA is to have 22 million healthy Veterans using VA services and resources as needed to ensure that they enjoy the most meaningful, satisfying, and productive lives possible.” Hunt believes the registry is “a nice way for Veterans to get their foot in the door at the VA and to explore the services, benefits, and resources available to them through VA health care.”
How Do I Sign up?
Any veteran or service member who fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, was deployed to the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations after 1990, or was stationed in Djibouti after September 11, 2001 is eligible to sign up on the registry. To determine if you qualify, the VA will use deployment data provided to the agency by the DoD.
To fill out the questionnaire, you need to have a premium level 2 DS Logon. This is a secure ID that allows you to access multiple websites, including the burn pit registry, using one name and password.
Our Attorneys Can Help
If you’re a veteran who worked around open air burn pits or was exposed to toxic fumes caused by burn pits and you believe your medical condition is related to this exposure; or you want to discuss the burn pit registry and if your current medical issues make you eligible for disability, contact Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405. for a free evaluation of your situation. We've been helping veterans for years and we can help you, too.