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Veterans Law

What Is the VA’s Burn Pit Registry?

April 24, 2018
Updated: January 20, 2022
VA Burn Pit Registry|VA Burn Pit Registry|VA Burn Pit Registry|VA Burn Pit Registry

The 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.” The exposures the registry includes are 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.

The VA website states that between April 25, 2014 and March 5, 2018, 134,620 veterans and service members have completed the burn pit registry questionnaire.

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

Participating in the registry is free and is not required in order to receive either VA healthcare or VA disability benefits. According to the 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?

The 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. The VA uses the information to develop methods 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 the VA to look at a wide-range of data from service members who were exposed and draw conclusions or suggestions 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. The 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 deployment, as well as 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 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 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 About Other Exposures?

Burn pits were not the only pollutants that veterans and service members could have been exposed to during their deployments to the Southwest Asia theater of operations. Particulate matter was prevalent in the area. Particulate matter are extremely small particles and liquid droplets in the air.  Levels of particulate matter are naturally higher in Southwest Asia due to the amount of sand and dust in the atmosphere, as well as emissions from the local industries. This particulate matter can be inhaled by service members and cause serious health issues, especially conditions impacting the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

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