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Exposure to Burn Pits: Another VA Blind Spot

Exposure to Burn Pits: Another VA Blind Spot
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(UncleSam) – When about 75%- 78% of veterans who claim exposure to burn pits are denied benefits by the VA, there is a serious blind spot. Much like the years when the VA turned away Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, getting the agency to “see the science” was and in some cases still is, extremely difficult. Like “agent orange,” burn pit exposure has reportedly cause disease and death for numerous military veterans. The uphill battle has been joined by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) along with Jon Stewart, TV personality. They want to pass legislation to force the VA to expand medical care for veterans exposed to the burn pits.

The “Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act”

Veterans are now sick and dying from lung diseases, cancers, and respiratory illnesses after living among this toxic cocktail of dust, smoke and debris while serving our country overseas. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to deny many veterans access to the VA with the excuse that there isn’t enough science to prove their ailments are service-connected.

Sen Marco Rubio

Exposure to Burn Pits: Jet Fuel + Garbage, Medical Waste…

In 2014, a bill was passed to create a burn pit registry. It allegedly was to be used to research the long term effects on veterans exposed to the toxins. Burn pits were a common feature in both Iraq and Afghanistan because no one could figure out how to get rid of all the garbage generated by the camps. The bill was expanded in 2019 so that family members could update the registry. But the ‘research’ has been slow, and veterans have died.

“…the VA has contended there is not sufficient evidence to support those claims. The agency also has said if burn-pit care were expanded, the volume of patients would create enormous costs.”

Stripes, 2020

“Enormous costs.” What price is being put on the lives of those affected? The VA needs to have a presumptive benefit for the exposure to burn pits and other toxic exposures on deployments.

75%-78% of veterans who are diagnosed with horrific cancers are denied because they can’t prove the a connection to their service. There are still 9 active burn pits at military bases in the Middle East. As an example, take the case of Marine veteran Scott Evans who served in Afghanistan. He says he is okay with the cancer diagnosis only because “everybody who walked behind me has all their limbs, and came back safe. And if the cost of it was getting cancer, that’s fine.”

Evans first contacted the VA medical center closest to his home last April after his weight began to plummet and the whites of his eyes had turned yellow. But he said he was told he was ineligible because there was no evidence his condition was connected to his service and he didn’t qualify for financial need.

NBC (emphasis mine)

“Ineligible because there was no evidence of his condition being connected to his service.” It’s a mantra repeated consistently across the lives of many veterans.

While everyone understands that there should be some checks and balances to root out fraud, it becomes ridiculous when dealing with everything from Agent Orange exposure to burn pits to the toxins in the rubble left from the World Trade Towers on 9-11-2001. At some point the VA needs to ask, why are there so many here? As of 2019, there were 240,000 veterans in the burn pit registry. The Department of Defense says that upwards of 3.5 million veterans could have been exposed to them.

Passing legislation to relieve the problem is certainly an answer, but “urgency” is not in the vocabulary of Congress. And for many, time may be running out. The “Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act” needs to pass quickly.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia , pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer, constrictive bronchiolitis… veterans’ exposure to burn pits may be the cause. Even if their claim is approved, it can take months, even years to receive approval – in some cases too late for those with terminal illness. And even though veterans can seek medical assistance outside the VA networks, many times civilian doctors are clueless about burn pit exposure. During the coronavirus situation, veterans who suffered burn pit issues, were at risk for even more problems.

“Science” tells medical experts that exposure to toxic smoke causes serious health hazards. Making the leap to veterans exposure to burn pits shouldn’t be that difficult.

*****

Featured photo: a burn pit by Mark Rankin, US Army photo

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