Senate Passes PACT Legislation for Burn Pit Victims

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The U.S. Senate passed the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. The PACT Act is a substantial step in expanding healthcare services and benefits to the millions of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. In addition to expanding healthcare to toxic-exposed veterans, the bill also adds certain conditions related to toxic burn-pit exposure to the Department of Veterans Affairs' list of illnesses that may be linked to military service.

If you were a service member and are suffering from cancer, asthma, or any other unexplainable medical issue, it may have been due to burn pit exposure. And given the recent passage of the PACT Act, veterans and their family members may be entitled to benefits that were previously unavailable. To learn more about how service members can pursue compensation for their burn pit injuries, click here to view our recent post on the topic.

What are Burn Pits?

Military service members are often exposed to various hazards which may result in lifelong disability and trauma. While many of these dangers relate to combat and the psychological toll of active duty, some of the most long-lasting conditions stem from environmental exposures to harmful substances, such as burn pits.

Burn pits refer to a hole in the ground routinely used to dispose of garbage and environmental waste. The primary reason for burning debris is to minimize storage, decrease the risk of contamination, and eliminate the cost of transporting trash. While burn pits are well-known within the military community, until recently, the effects on health and safety have gone unaddressed.

Exposure to Burn Pit Toxins

Most people interact with various substances in their daily lives, and while some substances are only harmful in significant amounts, other toxins may be dangerous at even minor levels of exposure. Veterans exposed to the toxic agents in the U.S. military bases often report experiencing complex medical and psychological conditions. While some of these conditions are acute and short-lived, others have life-long impacts on the health and well-being of veterans. Some of the most prevalent conditions were respiratory health conditions include:

  • Asthma,

  • Pulmonary disease,

  • Sinusitis,

  • Lung cancer,

  • Various other types of cancer, and

  • Other unexplained medical conditions.

There is very little research on the exposure of burn pit toxins to those stationed outside these bases. However, given the nature of airborne toxins, it is reasonable to suspect that those in the vicinity of a military burn pit may have suffered exposure to potentially harmful contaminants.

Location of Military Burn Pits and Type of Waste Disposal

Burn pits gained notoriety during the War on Terror; however, the U.S. military used this method of waste disposal well before 2001. The list of burn pit locations includes almost every place American troops set up bases, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. Additionally, certain bases burned a staggering amount of waste; for instance, Balad Air Base burned nearly two hundred tons of solid waste per day between 2005 and 2007.

What Substances Were Burned in Burn Pits?

Reports indicate that officials directed military servicemembers and civilian contractors to burn almost every type of waste in these pits. For example, burn pits included:

  • Chemicals,

  • Paints,

  • Metal,

  • Appliances,

  • Petroleum,

  • Plastics,

  • Human waste,

  • Food waste, and

  • Wood.

Service members frequently used benzene-based jet fuel propellant to ignite these burn pits. Veterans who served during Operation Desert Shield (ODSh), Operation Desert Storm (ODSt), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) were exposed to potentially toxic agents released at these burn pits.

What is the PACT Act?

Under the PACT Act, veterans can secure health care and treatment related to toxic exposure. For post-9/11 combat veterans, the bill extends the time a veteran has to enroll in health care following their discharge. Further, the PACT Act codifies the V.A.’s process for reviewing and awarding presumptive benefits for chronic conditions. In line with this, the Act eliminates the requirement for veterans and their survivors to establish service connections if they are diagnosed with one of the enumerated conditions related to burn pit exposure.

Veterans and their family members who were exposed to burn pits while serving or living abroad can learn more about how they can obtain compensation for their injuries by contacting an experienced burn pit lawyer for more information.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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