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IAVA | May 7, 2020

Read: IAVA Burn Pits and Toxic Exposures FAQs

IAVA EVP of Government Affairs, Tom Porter, shares his insight into the issues of burn pits and toxic exposures.

Burn pits were a common way to get rid of waste at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of the efforts of IAVA and other Veteran Service Organization (VSO) partners to educate the public and elevate the issue, they are finally starting to become a priority on Capitol Hill and in the media. Our members see burn pits and other airborne toxicants as a critical, urgent and growing threat that will impact an entire generation. 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 enrollment is voluntary, the registry is not well-known.

Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade/Army

There are other hazards beyond burn pits that occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan that may also pose a danger for respiratory illnesses. These include inhaled irritant gases, high levels of fine dust, heavy metals due to operations in urban environments, plus the potential impact to the respiratory system from the effects of explosives and the inhalation of depleted uranium used in munitions.

Q: WHAT ARE IAVA MEMBERS SAYING ABOUT BURN PITS AND OTHER TOXIC EXPOSURES?

A. IAVA released our annual Member Survey results in March 2020.

  • 86% say they were exposed to burn pits and/or airborne toxic materials.
  • 88% of those report they are experiencing symptoms that are or might be related to burn pits or toxic exposure.
  • 77% are aware of the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry and 72% are registered in it.
  • Only 19% have completed the optional in-person medical evaluation that is offered to veterans who have registered.
  • See our entire Member Survey HERE.

Q: WHAT IS IAVA DOING ABOUT TOXIC EXPOSURES?

A:  Since 2019, IAVA has been allied with more than 20 other VSOs in the Toxic Exposures in the American Military (TEAM) Coalition. We are developing ambitious new legislation to get veterans with toxic exposures the benefits they deserve. There will be a time when we launch our campaign around the new legislation that we will need IAVA members to contact Congress to ask for their support. That legislation will be listed HERE. In the meantime, please use the page to ask for support on our other priorities.

Follow IAVA on Facebook and Twitter, and TEAM to hear about our latest developments.

Q: WHAT HAS IAVA DONE ABOUT TOXIC EXPOSURES?

A: IAVA successfully campaigned to establish VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry in 2013.

A: IAVA successfully worked to pass into law in 2018 legislation that established the VA Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence focused on the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits.

A: IAVA led the fight to pass into law the Burn Pits Accountability Act in 2019 as part of the annual DoD authorization bill for 2020.  BPAA required DoD to evaluate whether each servicemember has been exposed to an open-air burn or other toxicants and share the data with VA to improve.  IAVA also supported a provision in the same bill to require DoD and VA to retroactively update health records of servicemembers and veterans exposed.

Q: WHAT IS THE VA’S AIRBORNE HAZARDS AND OPEN BURN PIT REGISTRY?

A: The VA has a Registry, including resources and guidance, that allows eligible veterans and service members to document their exposures and report health concerns through an online questionnaire.  Following your entry into the Registry, you can schedule a free VA exam.  The recently established VA Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence studies the data in the Registry.

Q: DO I NEED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE REGISTRY TO SUBMIT A CLAIM FOR DISABILITY THROUGH VA?

A: Veterans do not need to participate in the Registry to submit a claim for disability compensation. The registry and the disability compensation processes are separate and not related. Veterans can find information on how to submit a claim for disability compensation through VA at the following link: http://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/.

Q: I WAS EXPOSED TO BURN PITS AND/OR OTHER TOXICANTS DURING MY DEPLOYMENT. WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC?

A: The Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence at the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center has Coronavirus-related guidance for veterans, including CDC information and websites by both DoD and the VA specifically for the pandemic.

RESOURCES:

VA Coronavirus FAQs
VA Burn Pits webpage
VA Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry
IAVA instructions on how to complete the Burn Pit Registry (Also on Registry site)
Studies listed on VA’s webpage
CDC information for groups at potential high risk

IAVA’S QUICK REACTION FORCE (QRF)

As always, IAVA is here to help if you or someone you know is having a hard time. We recently relaunched our premiere peer-to-peer support program, Quick Reaction Force (QRF). Formerly known as the Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP), QRF provides confidential 24/7 support, comprehensive care management, and resource connections. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise and more veterans and their families are furloughed from their jobs, there are heightened stress levels within our community; QRF aims to help those that need assistance. If you are a veteran or a veteran family member facing challenges, or if you have questions, QRF can help by providing connections to quality resources so you can get back on your feet and meet your goals. To get connected to a Veteran Care Manager for immediate help anytime, day or night, please call 1-855-91RAPID or fill out our online form here.

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