Look, we really need to talk about burn pits

Matt Saintsing
June 06, 2018 - 4:40 pm

Photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter


House lawmakers want to discuss an issue intimately well-known to those of us who served in Iraq or Afghanistan: Burn pits and the potential health consequences they may cause.

The Department of Veterans Affairs compensates vets for injuries and ailments incurred from their military service. But when illnesses and disease are delayed for years, or even decades, it can be a rocky task for a veteran to prove what caused it.

Here’s what we know about burn pit exposure:

  • More than 140,000 veterans and active service members have enrolled in the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Airborne Hazard and Open Burn Pit Registry, which gives those exposed the chance to document their illnesses.


  • It’s more than just OIF/OEF vets. Anyone who deployed to any of these countries on or after Aug. 2, 1990, and those who served in Afghanistan or Djibouti after September 11, 2001 can use the Registry to report exposures. So, even if you served in Iraq as far back as the Gulf War, you should add your name to the list.


  • It’s been said to be the “Agent Orange” of the War on Terror. Everything from classified material, to excess equipment, to human waste has been amassed, doused with fuel and set ablaze. As a result, hundreds of thousands of veterans and military personnel could have inhaled some noxious fumes.


  • There’s a renewed effort to bring burn pits off the backburner and back into the consciousness of lawmakers. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), and Brian Mast (R-Fla.), both veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively, introduced the Burn Pits Accountability Act


  • The effects have been recreated in the lab. On May 8, medical researchers published their findings in an article in the journal of Experimental Lung Research where they created a model of burn-pit-like symptoms by injecting dust samples collected from Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq into the throats of mice. Some cancer causing particles found in the air sacs of the mice were identical to those found in biopsies of Iraq War veterans.


Advocates, medical researchers, and veterans alike hope to bring this issue that has riddled American warfighters’ health to the forefront, and to determine what avenues can be taken to make these veterans whole.

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