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Burn Pits and Presumptive Injury

By November 30, 2021Personal Injury

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and prepared for what it thought would be a quick altercation rather than decades of fighting. As a result of their extended presence, one of the many problems that the US military had to solve was waste disposal, and they settled on an expedient but toxic approach: burn pits.

A burn pit is an open-air pit that is filled with waste and set on fire. Burn pits are good for small units in the mountains that do not stay in one place for long. But even small burn pits produce toxic smoke, so the toxicity of pits used over and over again with ever-growing amounts of waste increases exponentially.

Although the idea was to rely on burn pits only temporarily, the Department of Defense never stopped using them. Unsurprisingly, the soldiers who regularly inhaled toxic smoke from burn pits displayed symptoms of serious illness almost immediately.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) responded to diseases caused by exposure to burn pit smoke the way it first dealt with veterans who became sick from exposure to Agent Orange—by denying that there was any link between exposure and the illnesses that ensued.  The VA eventually acknowledged a connection, but it took over twenty years to do so.

In October, however, the VA announced that veterans suffering from sinusitis, asthma, or rhinitis following exposure to smoke from burn pits would be added to its list of presumptive injuries for purposes of obtaining disability benefits through the VA.  The presumption applies to veterans who became sick within the last ten years and who served in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Syria, and Uzbekistan on or after September 2001 or in Southwest Asia on or after 1990.

A presumptive connection in the above cases means that the VA considers your sinusitis, asthma, or rhinitis to have been caused by inhaling burn pit smoke, and to win your claim for VA benefits, you do not have to prove that specific exposure caused them; all you have to show is that you were at some point exposed to burn pit smoke, and now you happen to suffer from sinusitis, asthma, or rhinitis.

On the other hand, if you suffer from Deployment-Related Lung Disease (DRLD), you do have to show that your DRLD was specifically caused by exposure to substantial burn pit smoke, but the hope is that the VA will continue to add more burn pit smoke-related illnesses to its list of presumptive injuries.

If you have a claim pending with the VA, it will now apply the new rules to your case, and you do not need to do anything else.