Can I receive VA disability for Burn Pit exposure?

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Where did the military use burn pits?

Since 1991, American forces have served in the Southwest Theater of Operations.  To dispose of nearly all forms of waste, the military dug large burn pits.  Every forward operating base (FOB) in the region used burn pits. See map below. 

 

This region stretches from Somalia up to Uzbekistan, and all the countries in between. 

The burned waste products include, but are not limited to:

  • Plastics,
  • Metal cans
  • Rubber
  • Chemicals,
  • Petroleum products,
  • Munitions
  • Wood waste, and
  • Medical and human waste.

Jet fuel (JP-8) is used as the accelerant.  However, the burn pits do not properly burn the volume of waste generated.  As a result, smoke blows over bases and into living areas.

The most infamous burn pit is at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.   In 2008, the military found several deadly toxins in the air at Balad.  They detected some of the same toxins found in Agent Orange and the groundwater at Camp LeJeune. 

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.  Over a quarter of a million veterans have reported an illness they link to the burn pits.

I’ve never filed a VA claim before.  How  do I start a Burn Pit claim?

If you never filed a VA claim before, then you’ll need to file an Original claim.  Per VA rules, you can only file an original claim using a VA Form 21-526EZ.  The form asks for your Social Security number, dates of active duty service, branch of service, and other biographical information.  Most importantly, you must briefly explain why your disability is related to your burn pit exposure. 

In addition, you should also submit evidence to meet the 3 basic elements of any VA claim:

  1. In-service event, disease or injury,
  2. Current diagnosis of a disability, and
  3. Medical nexus between the first 2 elements.

According to VA, toxins in burn pit smoke may affect the following body systems:

  • Skin,
  • Eyes,
  • Respiratory,
  • Cardiovascular,
  • Gastrointestinal, and
  • Internal organs.

However, this general information is not enough to prove a link to burn pits.

In most cases, this will be a medical question for your doctor.  But remember: most civilian doctors are unfamiliar with burn pit exposure.  You, the veteran, will need to provide context.  This context will help your doctor figure out a link between your condition and the burn pit.

The following factors are critical:

  • Proximity, amount of time, and frequency of exposure
  • Military specialty
  • Pre-existing respiratory conditions
  • Wind direction and other weather factors
  • Types of waste burned.

If you were only exposed to burned human waste, then it is easy to research those toxins.  There is a lot of science on this topic.  However, a pit that also burned munitions, Styrofoam and chemicals requires more analysis.  Likewise, a soldier who personally visited the burn pits has more exposure than one who did not.

New presumptive conditions

As of August 5, 2021, veterans don’t need to prove a link to burn pit exposure for these 3 conditions:

  • Asthma,
  • Rhinitis, and
  • Sinusitis.

For veterans with a qualifying period of service, VA no longer requires specific proof of exposure to burn pits.  If you served in the Gulf War, Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan, then you qualify.   All you need to prove is a current diagnosis.

VA denied my burn pit claim.  What now?

Hire an accredited VA representative.

There are so many rules and exceptions that apply to burn pit claims.  Without a representative, you may not know if VA was wrong to deny your claim.  Too many VA decision-makers deny claims if there is any doubt at all.  However, this is not the correct standard.

Further, when VA denies a claim, it MUST explain why.  VA must explain to the veteran which elements he successfully proved.  With that knowledge, a veteran should focus on getting evidence for the unproven element(s).   For example, if VA says you were never exposed to burn pits, then you need to develop evidence to the contrary. 

An experienced representative can make all the difference in your case. 

Are you entitled to VA compensation for burn pit exposure?  The experts at Disability Help Group are standing by.  Contact us for a FREE CONSULTATION.

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Many veterans are unable to earn a living because of service-connected disabilities. Congress created a special benefit called TDIU to help these veterans live comfortably. Also known as Unemployability. TDIU pays the same monthly amount as a 100% disability rating.

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