Hearing on Open Air Burn Pits Highlights Vast Gulf Between DoD & VA

The hearing on Friday highlighted several of the glaring chasms that exist between the DoD, the VA and the veteran community; regarding those agencies handling of toxic chemical exposures.

For over a decade, the Department of Defense permitted the use of open-air pits as its only method of waste disposal for its combat operations in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. In 2009, after reports of toxic chemicals being emitted from these burn pits came to light, the DoD ordered that incinerators replace the open-air pits.

That edict did not address the effects on service members that were surfacing in significant numbers. In April 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued the “Environmental Training Letter”. This policy did address how the VA would handle veterans’ health concerns and potential claims for benefits. In April 2014, the VA instituted a “Burn Pit Registry; which as of today has over 144,000 veteran’s registered.
Yet, when a VA representative was asked by Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18) how many burn pit claims the VA had processed, the VA proudly proclaimed that they have processed 9,000 burn pit related claims…in eight (8) YEARS since their policy went into place and one must assume that those claims were by veterans who are on the Registry. That is an average of 1,125 burn pit related claims PER YEAR. From the agency who touts that they are processing over 1 million claims a year; and having a “captive audience” of veteran’s who have registered already with them; this is pure evidence of a catastrophic failure of policy and leadership.

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There are a few members of Congress who believe we still need more research into the effects of toxic chemical exposures on our service members. (They are not satisfied with the decades of identical research done by multiple federal agencies on these exposures). The DoD and VA firmly hold this position as well.

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Fortunately, for those who are suffering from those exposures; most legislators are seeing the VA’s lack of response for what it is; round two of the decades long stall tactic that the agency exhibited with Vietnam era veterans and their claims about Agent Orange exposures…”Delay, Deny, Until You Die”.

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