HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Friday, August 12, 2022

Welcome to the Burn Pit: Where the Black Goo Oozes and the Green Ponds Glow

Carlissa Carson (Emory Law), Welcome to the Burn Pit: Where the Black Goo Oozes and the Green Ponds Glow, 82 La. L. Rev. (2022):

It is estimated that millions of servicemen and women were involuntarily exposed to toxic burn pits while deployed overseas to countries like Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. A growing number of these servicemembers have developed severe health complications because of this exposure. Long after lacing up their last combat boot, these servicemembers are battling a bloated bureaucracy while suffering with war wounds. They are being denied healthcare and disability benefits despite this nation’s promise to care for veterans injured during their time in service. These pits, used in the absence of waste management alternatives, were often doused with jet propellant 8 and set ablaze to slowly burn human waste, medical waste, Styrofoam, plastics, and wood, among other items. Recent scientific and medical research indicates burn pits produce cancer-causing dioxins and poisons such as arsenic and carbon monoxide. Given the number of persons exposed and levels of toxicity, burn pit exposure is likely to become the Agent Orange of this generation. Servicemembers with burn pit exposure and diseases or illnesses linked to this exposure should have efficient and effective access to healthcare and disability compensation. To date, Congress, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (“VA”), have failed to provide these servicemembers with the same favorable presumptions extended to Vietnam War veterans with Agent Orange exposure. As such, up to seventy-five percent of claims filed with VA based on burn pit exposure have been denied, leaving countless servicemembers without redress. Despite mounting scientific evidence, and a failure to act, it appears no law review articles have been published to highlight the growing concerns among servicemembers with burn pit exposure and the need for presumptive service-connection, available to Vietnam War veterans and others.

The promise of care should be upheld. Congress or the VA should act. To properly address burn pit exposure and resulting illnesses, servicemembers must have preventative and on-going health care. Additionally, VA should create a list of presumptive conditions based on well-founded scientific research as it did for Vietnam War veterans. VA should set forth a framework for continued scientific research and fashion proper eligibility limitations to safeguard existing veterans’ benefits programs.

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