Ryan Britch | March 24, 2020
Read: Burn Pits and Toxic Exposures
IAVA Government Affairs Associate, Ryan Britch shares insights on driving support for injuries from burn pits and toxic exposure.
“86% of respondents were exposed to burn pits during their deployments, and over 88% of those exposed reported having or possibly having symptoms related to burn pits or toxic exposures.”
—10th Annual IAVA MEMBER SURVEY
Often referred to as the Agent Orange of the post-9/11 generation, burn pits were a common way to get rid of waste at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. As well, there are other hazards beyond burn pits that occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world that may pose a danger for respiratory illnesses, including high levels of fine dust, burning vehicles and other airborne hazards. Our members see burn pits as a critical, urgent and growing threat that will impact an entire generation. Year after year, we have seen an upward trend in the number of members reporting symptoms associated with toxic exposure.
VA estimates 3.5 million veterans are eligible to register in the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, which tracks exposures to airborne toxins. However, because the enrollment process is tedious and voluntary, only 53% of our members who have been exposed are registered.
Thanks to IAVA’s steadfast advocacy, the Burn Pits Accountability Act (H.R.663/S.191) passed into law as part of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This legislation now requires DoD to ensure that service members who report being exposed to burn pits or other airborne hazards are added to VA’s Registry.
IAVA has long advocated for adding conditions shown to have links to burn pits and airborne toxins to VA’s Presumptive List and for creating a disability classification for veterans impacted. In June 2019, IAVA joined with more than 20 other military and veteran service organizations to form the Toxic Exposures in the American Military (TEAM) Coalition. TEAM has been hard at work on potential solutions that will ensure that sick veterans are taken care of. We need to take action and pass ambitious legislation that will effectively track, study, and provide benefits to veterans who are suffering from toxic exposure.
IAVA Recommendations for the 116th Congress:
- Develop a Presumption of Exposure for Burn Pits and Airborne Toxins
- Drive Public Awareness Around Burn Pits and Toxic Exposures
- Hold DoD Accountable for Injuries due to Toxic Exposures
- Strengthen VA’s Tracking of Burn Pit and Toxic Exposures
[for in-depth explanations, refer to pages 26-29 of IAVA’s Policy Agenda: A Lasting Legacy]