September 8, 2022
Have you suffered from exposure to toxic airborne hazards while serving in the Army or military? Disability compensation may be available for military service members who served in burn-pit exposed areas during certain military operations - and were later diagnosed with a presumptive condition.
Brooks & Radchenko is a leading North Texas personal injury law firm handling burn pit exposure compensation claims on behalf of burn pits veterans.
Burn pits are areas of land where military and defense contractors burn their waste - everything from plastics and rubber, to medical waste and human waste. Although the use of open burn pits was banned in the U.S. in the 1970s, the practice of using them overseas was not stopped.
Burn pits were part of the waste disposal protocol during the Gulf War and post-9/11 period, including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In many locations, hauling waste away from a base was both expensive and potentially very dangerous.
Although the practice of using open-air burn pits did reduce the volume of toxic wastes, the pits emitted toxic smoke. Smoke from a military or army burn pit could travel for miles, causing both short-term and long-term health effects to those exposed. Unfortunately, the use of burn pits exposed many Veterans to toxic airborne waste.
Exposure to airborne waste was particularly problematic for those already vulnerable to respiratory illness and those who were exposed for longer periods. “Burn pit syndrome” refers to the common respiratory effects of burn pit exposure, including coughing, difficulty breathing, and throat discomfort.
Burn pits were problematic due to both what was disposed of in them, and the substances released into the air when they burned. In some cases, it was the combination of materials burned together that was toxic. Some of the common items incinerated in military burn pits included:
Bur pit legislation in 2022 included a promising VA burn pit update for veterans. The PACT Act - The Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act - expanded eligibility for VA health care and required the VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA health care. The PACT Act was one of the largest health care expansions in VA history. It also expanded the list of presumptive service-connected locations for Agent Orange and provided additional resources to the VA for processing claims.
VA burn pit disability benefits may be available to service members who were duty service member deployed to:
The time frame for eligibility for exposure to US military burn pits was within 10 years of your separation from active service. If you suffered symptoms of burn pit exposure, compensation may be available.
A veteran claiming disability compensation benefits for burn pit exposure presumptive conditions will be assigned a rating, based on the severity of their symptoms. Many veterans report multiple conditions from toxic burn pit exposure.
Your disability rating will be based on whether your exposure caused your symptoms, or caused an existing condition to worsen, and whether you will likely experience long-term effects. Your burn pit disability rating will range from 10% to 100%, with monthly compensation increasing based on your rating. The VA will periodically review your benefits to reassess whether you should continue to receive the same benefit, or your benefit should be changed.
Exposure to burning pit smoke has been linked to numerous health conditions and symptoms. Some service members recall immediate effects, including throat discomfort, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Although symptoms subsided for many after being removed from deployment (once they could breathe clean air again, many others suffered long-term effects.
Research is ongoing regarding other conditions linked to burn pit exposure, as it takes many veterans years and even decades to experience symptoms. Respiratory conditions are especially common, including asthma, sinusitis, rhinitis, and rhinosinusitis. Other conditions linked to burn pit exposure have included:
Individuals with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions have had a high rate of burn pit illnesses.
Burn pit registry compensation is not automatic for veterans, and involves navigating a series of steps. An application must be filed with the VA, with supporting evidence demonstrating both the medical condition and the link to military service. Without assistance, applying for benefits can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult for veterans to fully understand their benefits.
A diagnosis from your health care provider will establish a disabling medical condition. Service-connected disability benefits require an applicant to demonstrate that their condition or illness was “incurred or aggravated by their military service."
Your condition does not need to be presumptive, to receive VA benefits.
Presumptive conditions are health conditions where it is automatically assumed (“presumed”) that time in the military caused the condition - even if the condition could have other causes. As long as you can establish that you served, no further proof is required to link military service and your condition.
For burn pits exposure claims, presumptive benefits status was initially available for three illnesses: asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis, with more than 20 presumptive conditions added with the PACT Act in 2022.
Burn pits are separate from, and not included in, Gulf War Illness claims, which are for Gulf War veterans with certain presumptive medical conditions and chronic disabilities from undiagnosed illnesses resulting from environmental exposures beginning in 1990 and extending through December 31, 2026.
There is some overlap between time periods and locations for service members in the Gulf War and burn pit claims. A veteran of Operation Desert Storm could potentially be eligible for a Gulf War Illness claim and a military burn pit claim. However, the types of conditions are different, as well as the eligibility time frame for claims.
Joining the burn pit registry does not file a compensation claim, but allows veterans to provide information and create a record, of whether they have experienced symptoms or not. Information saved in the registry may be used to support a veteran’s claim. Anyone who served in the following missions is eligible to participate:
Participation in the registry involves two parts, a health questionnaire and an optional, completely voluntary health evaluation. The VA encourages veterans who are eligible to participate in the registry, even those who do not recall burn pits exposure to airborne hazards, or who never experienced any symptoms. Participation in the burn pit registry is voluntary and cannot have a negative impact on your access to VA health care.
If eligible, VA burn pit compensation in 2022 depends on your disability rating that has been assigned to your condition, from 0 to 100% in increments of 10:
If you would like to know more about VA compensation for burn pit exposure, and the burn pit registry for VA compensation, contact a lawyer who understands the process, burn bit legislation, and who is already representing military burn pit exposure victims.
Brooks & Radchenko is a Dallas personal injury law firm representing Veterans who served and suffered the ultimate price of exposure: respiratory problems, lung disease, cancer, and other VA burn pit symptoms.
We offer a free consultation to answer your questions, discuss your potential case, and help you understand potential and likely options to get burn pit compensation, should you pursue VA burn pit claims.
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