Thousands of Florida residents served with the U.S. armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and most of them spent time in facilities with burn pits. Some of these pits, which were built to dispose of waste in areas with little or no infrastructure, covered an area of more than 10 acres. The fumes emitted when materials like plastic, fuel and paint are burned have been linked with medical issues ranging from breathing difficulties to cancer, but U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs rarely approves claims made by service personnel who became sick after working near burn pits.
In a 2015 report, the VA estimated that about 3.5 million veterans served in areas or facilities with burn pits. Thousands of these former service members file veterans’ benefits claims with the agency each year over medical problems they believe are connected to burn pits, but the vast majority of these claims are rejected. In 2020, the VA approved only 3,442 of the 13,830 burn-pit exposure claims it received.
A possible White House ally
Groups advocating on behalf of sick and disabled veterans have so far not been able to convince lawmakers or the VA to take action on the burn pits issue, but Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election could change things. Biden’s son, Beau, served with the Delaware National Guard in Iraq. He died of brain cancer in 2015. Biden has said on several occasions that he is convinced his son developed the deadly disease because he served in military facilities that used large burn pits.
Linking medical issues to exposure
When veterans have medical conditions that they think were caused by burn pits, attorneys with experience in this area may help them to gather medical evidence that could link their health issues with exposure to airborne hazards. Attorneys could also advocate on behalf of veterans during the benefits appeals process if their claims are denied.