U.S. Soldiers and Burn Pits - The Newest War Syndrome - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

Burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to many troops, have caused long-lasting symptoms – and the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t seem to be too worried about the troops showing up with breathing problems, circulation issues and other symptoms that they often blame on toxic smoke coming from these “catch-all” disposal pits.

The burn pits, which have been used throughout military history, can contain anything discarded by the troops – including rubber, plastics and classified paperwork. The idea behind a burn pit is to ensure that enemy forces aren’t able to scavenge old military equipment, and they’re used on virtually every contingency operating base, forward operating base and combat outpost.

Typically, service members bring discarded items, from damaged uniforms to the occasional deposit of medical waste, and light them on fire using JP8, a form of jet fuel. The smoke and fumes permeate everything in the area.

The VA has an Open Burn Pit Registry on which service members from qualifying conflicts can document their exposures to the toxins, but they also say, “research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits.”

Thousands of veterans disagree.

Difficulty breathing, scar tissue in the lungs and even circulatory problems are among the numerous health complaints veterans claim are tied directly to their frequent exposure to the myriad materials torched in burn pits.

Unfortunately, because the VA says that there’s insufficient research on the connection of toxic fumes and veterans’ illnesses, veterans can’t make disability claims based on the symptoms that they’re now experiencing.

However, KBR, Inc. – one of the companies that operated burn pits at some of the largest bases in the Middle East – is facing a number of lawsuits. They’re denying responsibility and say that if the company is held liable, the military won’t be able to hire contractors for similar work in the future.

In a statement to NPR, KBR said, “At the limited number of bases where KBR operated burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, KBR personnel did so safely and effectively at the direction and under the control of the U.S. military.

“Government studies and reports show that military personnel deployed to Southwest Asia were exposed to many hazardous conditions, including the harsh ambient air. The government’s best scientific and expert opinions have repeatedly concluded there is no link between any long term health issues and burn pit emissions.”

It’s important to note that even on small combat outposts, burn pits thrive – even without KBR’s presence. Service members are routinely instructed to dispose of refuse in burn pits to ensure the enemy doesn’t procure U.S. supplies or information, and they also serve as a way to dispose of trash without creating a landfill.

That’s why the VA accepting these claims is a necessity – at least for those troops affected who weren’t victims of KBR’s burn pits – but with recent budgetary concerns and the VA’s less-than-sterling record of caring for our veterans, it’s unlikely that the bloated organization will do so any time soon. (The VA has recently tightened the requirements to apply for an Agent Orange claim, as well – after it took them decades to recognize the issue in the first place.)

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear your take on the burn pits and the chronic health conditions that some service members are now experiencing. Were you on a base or outpost that used burn pits? Share your story on Facebook; if you can do it in 160 characters or fewer, on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino