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Veterans Law

What Is the VA’s Burn Pit Registry?

Kaitlyn Degnan

April 24, 2018

Updated: February 16, 2024

VA Burn Pit Registry|VA Burn Pit Registry|VA Burn Pit Registry|VA Burn Pit Registry

VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry is an online database for veterans and service members “to document their exposures and report health concerns.”  Types of exposures noted in the registry include burn pits, oil well fires, and general pollutions such as sand, dust, and other airborne particles. The registry began in June 2014 and was put in place through an act of Congress.

What Are Burn Pits?

Open air burn pits were large pits used for waste disposal on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan following September 11, 2001.  Materials burned in the pits include metals, medical waste, human waste, ammunition, and plastics. Our infographic outlines all the materials burned in the pits.

The largest burn pit was located at Joint Base Balad and spanned over 25 acres of land at its largest.  It is estimated that nearly 147 tons of waste were burned here per day.

Many veterans who were exposed to burn pits during their service later became sick with illnesses similar to those experienced by Vietnam War Era veterans.  Studies conducted by the Department of Defense (DoD) on air samples indicate that post-9/11 veterans who were exposed to burn pits were exposed to some of the same harmful chemicals in Agent Orange, a powerful defoliant used during the Vietnam War.

The long-term health effects of burn pits are not currently well-understood. This is partly due to the lack of comprehensive studies of those exposed to burn pits.  The burn pit registry aims to collect data on those exposed and conduct studies with veterans who participate in the registry to better understand the health impacts of their exposures.

What Health Problems Are Caused by Burn Pits?

Breathing in smoke from a burn pit can cause a wide range of health problems.  Symptoms of exposure to smoke from military burn pits may include:

  • Coughing
  • Throat discomfort
  • Trouble breathing
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Leukemia
  • Pulmonary ailments

These symptoms may present soon after exposure or take years to develop.

Additionally, the below conditions can be linked to burn pit exposure:

  • Asthma
  • Acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy
  • AL Amyloidosis
  • Autoimmune
  • Bladder Cancer
  • Bone Cancer
  • Chloracne
  • Chronic B-Cell Leukemias
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP)
  • Constrictive bronchiolitis
  • COPD
  • Coughing that does not subside
  • Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Glioblastoma Multiform, or other brain cancers
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Heart conditions
  • Hodgkin’s Disease
  • Hypertension
  • Intestinal Cancers
  • Ischemic Heart Disease
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung cancer, and other respiratory cancers such as the pharynx, larynx, or others
  • Lupus
  • Lymphomas
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Myelodysplasia
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Non-Ischemic Cardiomyopathy
  • Parkinson’s-Disease, Parkinson’s-like symptoms, including Parkinsonism
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease
  • Poryphyria Cutanea Tarda
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Pulmonary ailments
  • Reduced liver or kidney function
  • Soft Tissue Sarcoma
  • Skin cancer
  • Skin lesions
  • Stroke
  • Stomach cancer
  • Throat infections
  • Tonsil cancer

This list, however, is not exhaustive.  If you have been diagnosed with a condition that is not on this list that you believe it linked to burn pit exposure, you could still be eligible for service-connected compensation.

Burn Pits and VA Disability Benefits

Who Can Participate in the Burn Pit Registry?

According to the VA’s website, veterans who served in the following are eligible to participate:

  • Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation New Dawn
  • Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm
  • Djibouti, Africa on or after September 11, 2001
  • Southwest Asia theater of operations on or after August 2, 1990

With the passage of the 2022 Burn Pit Registry Expansion Act in the 2022 NDAA, veterans stationed in Egypt and Syria are eligible to participate in the Burn Pit Registry.

Participating in the registry is free and is not required in order to receive either VA healthcare or VA disability benefits.  According to VA’s website, the burn pit registry is based on veterans’ recollection of service, not their service records.  Only veterans and service members are allowed to participate; family members are not eligible.

What Is the Registry Used For?

VA uses the data that veterans and service members voluntarily provide in the registry to analyze and report on health conditions that could be related to the various environmental exposures encountered during deployment.

VA then uses this information to better provide healthcare to veterans who were exposed during deployment, and to better address claims for disability benefits for these conditions.

Research on the long-term health effects of exposure to military burn pits is currently limited.  The registry allows VA to look at a wide range of data from service members who were exposed and draw conclusions about the impact of military exposures.

What Do I Need for the Registry?

First, you need to qualify to participate in the registry as outlined above.  VA’s website estimates that completing the survey takes 40 minutes.  The registry asks questions about the veteran’s deployment and where they were stationed, their current and past health issues, occupational and residential history, exposures during service, home life and environment, and health care.

The registry requests information about a wide range of areas to get a comprehensive picture of a veteran’s habits and lifestyle to determine how their service, as well as their pre-deployment and post-deployment life, could impact their health.

Veterans who participate in the registry can schedule an optional in-person evaluation with a VA medical provider to discuss their conditions and concerns about exposures.

What About Other Exposures?

Burn pits were not the only pollutants that veterans and service members could have been exposed to while serving in the Southwest Asia theater of operations.

Below are other substances that were found in air samples from Joint Base Balad, which have been known to create significant health risks:

  • Particulate matter (PM), a complex blend of small particles and droplets of liquid, can pass through the throat and nose while a person is breathing to enter the lungs.  These particles can cause serious health effects involving the heart and lungs.
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of more than 100 chemicals formed by incomplete burning of organic substances such as gas and coal.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals emitted from materials such as paints or disinfectants in the form of gasses.  These gasses can be easily inhaled by a person in the vicinity of an open-air burn pit.
  • Toxic Organic Halogenated Dioxins and Furans are a group of toxic chemicals known to cause damage to the immune system, reproductive system, and many types of cancer.  VA is well aware of the damage dioxins can cause because of its use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam war.  2,3,7,8 TCDD, the most toxic dioxin on the planet, which also results from the production of Agent Orange, was present in the air at Joint Base Balad.

VA seeks to use the registry to better understand exposures to particulate matter, environmental exposures, and chemicals in addition to burn pits.

About the Author

Bio photo of Kaitlyn Degnan

Kaitlyn joined CCK in September of 2017 as an Associate Attorney. Her practice focuses on representing disabled veterans before the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

See more about Kaitlyn