During Operation Desert Storm, Operation Desert Shield, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn, it was commonplace to use burn pits to dispose of waste generated by military bases—including plastics, rubber, wood, Styrofoam, paint, medical waste, and rotten food. These burn pits emitted toxic smoke and particulate matter that has since been thought to be linked to a wide range of disabling conditions. In fact, some health professionals have referred to burn pits as the “new Agent Orange” due to the high-risk exposure poses to a Veteran’s wellbeing.
While Veterans are not eligible for disability benefits simply because they were exposed to smoke from military burn pits, they can receive cash compensation and access to medical care if they are diagnosed with a disabling condition that is linked to this exposure. Initial claims are often denied to incomplete applications or a misinterpretation of the law, but an experienced Veterans benefits attorney can guide you through the process.
Conditions That May Be Associated With Burn Pit Exposure
Cancer is perhaps the most serious condition potentially associated with burn pit exposure. Veterans with burn pit exposure have reported higher than average rates of the following types of cancers:
- Blood cancer
- Brain cancer
- Lung cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Skin cancer
- Soft tissue sarcoma
- Stomach cancer
- Testicular cancer
Other conditions that may be linked to burn pit exposure include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD)
- Chronic skin rashes
- Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Sleep apnea
If you are concerned about specific symptoms you are experiencing or want to know more about your health risks, you can register for the free VA Open Burn Pit Registry. This process does not affect your VA disability benefits because it is separate from the Compensation & Pension (C&P) exam used to evaluate the severity of your condition. However, if you think it will help your claim, you can submit notes from the registry exam with your application for benefits.
Service Connecting Your Disability
Unfortunately, since research into the lasting health effects of burn pit exposure is ongoing, the majority of Veterans will not qualify for a presumptive service connection. In August 2021, the VA announced that it would grant presumptive status to three conditions if they manifested within 10 years of service: asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis. Other conditions may be added in the future, but Veterans currently face a challenge accessing the benefits they’ve earned in service of their county.
If you do not qualify for a presumptive service connection, you must submit evidence that links your condition to your military service. This includes research documenting the connection between burn pit exposure and your illness as well as medical opinions from doctors who are qualified to treat your specific condition. The best way to ensure that you have effective evidence for a service connection is to work with an experienced Veterans benefits attorney.
Relationship to Gulf War Illness Claims
Burn pit exposure claims are often confused with Gulf War illness claims due to the overlapping symptoms, conditions, and periods of service. However, claims for Gulf War illness are considered under special Persian Gulf War regulations. These regulations cover service between August 1990 and December 2021, although this date is planned to be extended. The area of exposure for Gulf War illness is greater than that for conditions related to burn pit exposure. Gulf War Veterans can also connect their conditions to a wider range of toxins that includes insecticides, pesticides, oil well fires, and nerve gas.
If you are not sure whether your claim is related to burn pit exposure or Gulf War illness, speaking to a qualified Veterans benefits attorney is the best way to determine the appropriate course of action.
How Can a VA Disability Benefits Attorney Help With Your Burn Pit Exposure Claim?
If you have been diagnosed with a disability you believe is related to burn pit exposure, our experienced Veterans benefits attorneys can help ensure that you receive the highest possible rating for your condition. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.