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Tag: Burn Pit exposure

Can I receive VA disability for Burn Pit exposure?

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.

How Can I Receive VA Compensation for Burn Pit Exposure?

What is a Burn Pit?

A burn pit is an area devoted to open-air burning of trash and you can receive VA Compensation for burn pit exposure. During U.S. operations in countries such as Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, the military commonly used burn pits for waste disposal. It was a very efficient way to get rid of large amounts of waste. The largest pit was about 20 acres long .

These burn pits disposed of various materials, such as:

  • Human waste
  • Body parts
  • Medical waste
  • Unexploded ordinance
  • Chemicals
  • Plastics and Styrofoam
  • Paints
  • Rubber.

Smoke from these pits contained toxins that may lead to serious health conditions.  This is especially true for those who had prolonged exposure.  This includes service members who personally dumped waste into a burn pit.  In addition, those with pre-existing respiratory conditions were especially sensitive to the smoke.

Basic Eligibility

VA compensation is a monthly payment to veterans for disabilities related to service.  However, VA will not start the process for you.  You must first file a claim.

To win VA compensation, a veteran must satisfy the 3 basic elements of a VA claim:

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

The first step is to prove you were exposed to burn pits during your active duty service.  If you served in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations, then your DD Form 214 should confirm this.  Absent official service records, obtain statements from buddies who witnessed your exposure to burn pits.

Second, the veteran must have a current disability.  The time between exposure and diagnosis will vary based on several factors.  For example, the toxins from burned human waste may affect the body differently than those from burned Styrofoam.   

Even so, a short-term adverse reaction to the smoke is not enough.  Shortly after burn pit exposure, many veterans develop medical conditions.  However, many do not develop disabilities until years after discharge. 

Third, VA requires proof that the condition you suffer from today was caused or aggravated during service.  This usually takes the form of a medical nexus letter.  Only a medical professional should write a disability nexus letter.  In limited circumstances, non-doctors such as physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners can write them.  However, VA will find a disability nexus letter more persuasive if written by a doctor in the relevant specialty. 

Does Every Burn Pit Claim Need a Medical Nexus Letter?

Not every burn pit claim needs a nexus letter because in some cases, the link to service is undeniable.  For example, if your service records note a disability you still suffer from today, then VA would probably grant a claim for that disability without a nexus letter.  As of August 2021, VA will concede that burn pit exposure causes certain health conditions.  These are known as burn pit presumptive conditions.

New presumptive conditions, you can receive VA Compensation for burn pit exposure.

On August 5, 2021, VA issued a new rule to remove the medical nexus requirement for 3 conditions:

  • Asthma,
  • Rhinitis, and
  • Sinusitis.

This rule removes the medical nexus requirement for certain veterans.  But that’s not all.  It also makes it easier to prove burn pit exposure.  For veterans with a qualifying period of service, VA no longer requires specific proof of burn pit exposure to burn pits.  If you served in the Gulf War, Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan, then you qualify.   In those cases, all you need to prove is a current diagnosis.

Why does VA keep denying my burn pit claim?

VA has been slow to recognize the science linking serious conditions to burn pit exposure.  Because the decision-makers don’t see a link, they tend to deny the claims.

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs recently talked about this . He conceded that many vets have come home with ailments that their doctors believe are a result of burn pit exposure. VA has recognized burn pits cause asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis. However, VA has yet to accept the scientific link to many more serious conditions.

Secretary McDonough cited a critical example.  A female veteran was trying to stay healthy in Fallujah, Iraq.  She went running daily around a burn pit.  When she informed her doctor, he said she should get tested early for breast cancer.  It turned out she had stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 38.  The science indicated she was way too young to have such an advanced stage cancer.

When VA denies a claim, the veteran can file an appeal.  However, appeals can take years to win.  With such an advanced cancer, this veteran may not survive before VA decides the appeal.  This is grossly unfair to veterans who served our country with honor.

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.

Disability Help Group, Call Now for a Free Case Review, 800-700-0652.

You can receive VA Compensation for burn pit exposure.

Make sure you start your claim the right way and apply for all the benefits you deserve. Contact us now for a free consultation.

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