CCK’s Kerry Baker was featured on PBS News Hour, aired on July 20, 2018. PBS featured a story on service members’ exposures to particulate matter (such as sand) and toxic chemicals during service in countries such as Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and how these conditions can cause serious pulmonary conditions such as constrictive bronchiolitis.
Burn Pits and Exposures in the Southwest Asia Theater
Service members who were stationed in the Southwest Asia Theater of operations and Afghanistan were exposed to multiple pollutants and harmful substances, both on base and off. Many bases in Iraq and Afghanistan specifically had burn pits, large pits that burned the base’s garbage, including anything from tires and batteries, to medical equipment and military vehicles. These pits emitted toxic chemicals and pollutants into the air, exposing service members to harmful substances.
Particulate matter is also a concern in this region. Sand storms are a frequent occurrence, as well as exposure to dust and debris from car bombs. Particulate matter can get lodged in a service member’s airways and lungs, causing irreparable damage.
Exposure to smoke from burn pits and particulate matter can cause serious and rare pulmonary diseases such as asthma and lung disease.
Constrictive Bronchiolitis and Exposure
Constrictive bronchiolitis is a respiratory disease in which the small airways of a person’s respiratory system are inflamed. Constrictive bronchiolitis is rare and difficult to diagnose. Diagnosing the condition requires a lung biopsy, an invasive procedure where a part of the lung is removed. A common symptom of constrictive bronchiolitis is shortness of breath upon even mild exertion such a walking a couple blocks. There is currently no treatment or cure for the disease.
Fighting for VA Disability Compensation
Veterans who are diagnosed with a condition such as constrictive bronchiolitis, and believe that their condition was caused by their exposures in service, can have a very difficult time obtaining VA disability benefits. If they are granted service connection, veterans with constrictive bronchiolitis can then have trouble obtaining the proper disability rating.
Read our blog here to learn more about the mistakes VA makes when rating constrictive bronchiolitis.
CCK’s Kerry Baker stated that he would estimate that 80-90% of those applying for benefits for this condition are denied by VA. He discusses how VA examiners are not likely to have the in-depth knowledge of complicated exposures necessary to properly assess a veteran’s condition in light of those exposures.
VA does not currently have a presumption of service connection for constrictive bronchiolitis as due to burn pit exposure, stating that evidence does not support such a connection.