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Veterans Law

Ruling on Burn Pits Could Impact Veterans

Michael Lostritto

February 15, 2018

Updated: November 20, 2023

Burn Pits|Burn Pits Iraq|Burn Pit

A new decision handed down by a judge for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office for Workers’ Compensation Programs declares that exposure to open-air burn pits is linked to lung disease. The ruling pertains to private contractors who were exposed to burn pits while working in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like veterans, these civilian workers were exposed to harmful chemicals and smoke emitted from burn pits on U.S. military bases. 

What are Burn Pits?

The military used burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and Djibouti as a means of waste disposal. Everything from human waste to ammunition were burned around the clock in these pits inside of U.S. bases. Military personnel and civilian contractors were exposed to the toxic smoke and chemicals emitted by these pits and have since developed harmful conditions such as cancers and respiratory illnesses.

Why Does This Ruling Matter?

The ruling from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation is significant because it acknowledges the harmful respiratory effects that can develop from exposure to burn pits. The case concerns a private contractor named Veronica Landry who was sent to Iraq in 2004 by Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) as a private contractor. When she returned from her work assignment, she experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and respiratory issues.

The judge’s ruling may have implications for military personnel who served after September 11, 2001 on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. When veterans returned home from their deployments after September 11, 2001, the VA implemented the Burn Pit Registry for military personnel who were exposed to burn pits. The VA created the registry to study the health effects of exposure to the burn pits. However, the VA has not yet conceded that exposure to burn pits is linked to long-term health problems such as harmful respiratory conditions. The ruling handed down by the judge acknowledges a link between exposure to toxic fumes from burn pits and lung disease, and this link could be applied to military personnel in addition to private contractors.

For the tens of thousands of veterans on the VA’s Burn Pit Registry, this ruling may bring them a step closer to receiving adequate medical care for their conditions. While the health effects of exposure to burn pits are still being studied, this ruling gives hope that the VA will acknowledge the harmful effects of these exposures on the health and lives of veterans. While the ruling does not guarantee any change in the VA’s policy concerning burn pits, it may open up a new avenue for veterans to make their case for health coverage and benefits from the VA.

About the Author

Bio photo of Michael Lostritto

Michael joined CCK in September of 2016 as an Attorney, was named Supervising Attorney in 2021, and now serves as a Managing Attorney. His practice focuses on the representation of disabled veterans before the Department of Veterans Affairs and the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

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