VA Opening Door
The news is being published in the magazine, Military Times
and on the Facebook Burn Pit Page hosted by Jill Wilkins, the widow of an Iraq veteran who died from a brain tumor shortly after returning home.
A new 30-page Veterans Affairs Department training letter is being distributed to VA regional offices to be used to determine military benefits for veterans.
It represents an about face on the denial by the militiary that returning veterans' health problems are linked to burn pit smoke in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Burn pits, overseen by military contractors, are used to incinerate all waste at various bases including metals, food, medical, chemical, pesticides, paints and plastics, which are doused with jet fuel and set ablaze.
Personnel are exposed daily to toxic smoke and fumes.
In Balad, one of the largest bases in Iraq which reportedly burns two tons of material a day, the open pits have been replaced with three incinerators.
Returning veterans are reporting neurological and resiratory problems as well as cancers.
This is the first time the VA has addressed potential battlefield exposures while the troops remained in the combat zone, as well as the first time VA sent out guidance about a potential war-related health issue without a congressional mandate or a recommendation from a large health organization, reports Kelly Kennedy for Military Times.
The letter, with the subject line, “Environmental Hazards in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Military Installations,” is signed by Bradley G. Mayes, Director of Compensation and Pension Services. It went out in late April to all VA regional offices.
“Service members can be exposed to environmental hazards in the course of their military duties, which may result in adverse health effects,” the letter states.
“Numerous environmental hazards in Iraq, Afghanistan and other military installations that could potentially present health risks to service members and veterans have been identified.”
The letter says dioxins, volatile organic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have all be found in the burn pit smoke and particulate matter.
The burn pit in Balad, Iraq, has been called the “worse environmental site I’ve ever visited,” by an environmental scientist visiting the site, reports CNN-
on Burn Pits.
R. Craig Postlewaite, the Pentagon’s acting director for force health protection and readiness has said of the burn pits, that data was not there to indicate the pits “should generate any long term health risks including cancer.”
He told Army Times that the Defense Department, looking at air samples taken at Balad, should cause no long-term health effects and 25 serum samples showed no elevated levels of dioxin from the personnel stationed at Balad, even though he acknowledged that respiratory issues have been increasing.
Instead of putting the burden of proof on veterans to link their disability with benefits, “We’re trying to move beyond that,” Postlewaite said, adding that the Defense Department is trying to be more open and transparent.
Motley Rice, a law firm from Charleston, South Carolina, (and IB partner) is handling the class action litigation and offers veterans information on their Web site. #