During the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as much as 250 tons of trash a day were burned with jet fuel in huge open pits the size of football fields, spewing toxic fumes and carcinogens into the air. Service-members burned all kinds of garbage, from batteries to body parts. When trash is burned it releases dioxin in the air, the same chemical used in Agent Orange. So it’s no wonder that veterans exposed to toxic smoke from open burn pits went on to develop a number of severe illnesses.
Open burn pits were often located close to soldiers’ living quarters. The closer you were to burn pit smoke and the longer you were exposed to it, the higher the likelihood that your illnesses are exposure-related. Researchers continue to find evidence showing the link between burn pit exposure and a number of long-term illnesses.
PACT Act Adds Dramatically Expands Benefits for Burn Pits, Adding 23 Illnesses & Conditions to Presumptive List
The August 2022 Honoring Our PACT Act is the biggest veterans benefits bill in history and the first to comprehensively address toxic exposures. The bill extends the presumption of service connection for 23 illness and conditions. For many of these conditions, the VA had previously asked for proof of service-connection. That extra burden of proof has been lifted. Millions of affected veterans may be eligible for the new benefits. To learn the latest see our article on the PACT Act and Burn Pits.
What Are the 23 Diseases Associated with Burn Pits?
The PACT Act of August 2022 added 23 illnesses and chronic respiratory conditions to the presumptive benefits lists, fast-tracking veterans suffering from those diseases for disability benefits and health care. The government now presumes, without you having to provide additional evidence, that the following 23 diseases are connected to burn pit exposure.
- Respiratory cancer of any type
- Head and neck cancer of any type
- Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
- Reproductive cancer of any type
- Lymphoma and lymphomatic cancer of any type
- Kidney cancer
- Brain cancer
Respiratory Diseases and Conditions
- Rhinitis and sinitus
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Granulomatous disease
- Interstitial lung disease
- Pulmonary fibrosis
The “presumptive” in presumptive benefits means that if you served in a country where burn pits were used and later got sick, the VA now presumes your decline in health is connected to your service overseas.
For disabling conditions not listed above, the VA requires you to prove that your illnesses are service-connected on a case-by-case basis.
Some of these presumptive benefits are available now, others will be phased in over the next few years. See our article on the PACT Act for the latest information.
Where Were Burn Pits Used?
The map below shows the countries where burning trash in open pits that produced toxic smoke was a widespread practice.
Map Courtesy of the VA
Veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn are the most likely to have been exposed to burn pits. Burn pits were in heaviest use in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2008, when they began to be phased out following public outcry.
The VA estimates that 3.5 million veterans were exposed to burn pits, but not everyone exposed to toxic smoke will develop long-term illnesses. As we mentioned before, the severity of burn pit exposure-related illnesses depends on length of exposure, proximity, and other genetic factors. The only requirements for getting disability benefits are:
1. A diagnosis of cancer or a chronic illness that began or worsened after an overseas deployment at a base where burn pits were used
2. An honorable or general discharge.
Veterans Already Getting Compensation for Burn Pit Exposure
Over two thousand veterans who have filed burn pit claims are receiving VA disability compensation, according to the VA. A 60% disability rating for burn pit exposure entitles you to over $1,000 a month in disability compensation. A 100% disabling condition entitles you to over $3,000 a month. If you believe that your illness or disability is related to burn pit exposure, do not hesitate to talk with one of our VA-accredited claims agents about your options.
The most important thing you can do is to get expert legal help, and never give up. Proving service-connection under the current system can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. If you’ve already filed a claim and been denied, talk to the Rep for Vets. Consultations are free and confidential. No matter where you are in the process, our claims agents are here to help.