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Did Iraq and Afghan Burn Pits Produce an Agent Orange Effect?

Could the burn pits of military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan have released toxins that now threaten the health and very lives of American veterans? That’s the question many ill veterans are asking, while others are asserting the military has another Agent Orange situation on its hands. That toxic herbicide, used to defoliate Asian jungles in the Vietnam War era, caused widespread illness among exposed service members, including rare cancers and even birth defects in their children. Now, veterans of recent conflicts are blaming respiratory illnesses and cancers on open-air incineration pits used to destroy all manner of refuse.

Last year, the Veterans Administration opened a registry to track the health of exposed veterans, and nearly 45,000 have signed on, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer article run on the Stars and Stripes website. The VA claims it needs more time to study the issue before conceding that veterans’ illnesses may be service related. To some, this presents another parallel with Agent Orange; researchers spent decades studying that problem and it wasn’t until the 1990s that the VA finally started covering Agent Orange–related cancers.

However, veterans are also turning their guns on private contractors who may have put service members at risk unnecessarily by choosing to burn hazardous materials in open-air pits instead of installing costly incinerators that would have burned refuse more safely. Veterans recently filed a class action against civilian contractor KBR and its former parent company Halliburton. The defendants are seeking immunity, claiming they followed military direction.

The VA currently considers burn-pit illnesses on a case-by-case basis. There is no presumption that a particular illness is burn-pit related, so a veteran must prove exposure to a burn pit is the cause of the condition. This posture by the VA has caused many claims to be denied, as each veteran who applies must fight his or her own fight to obtain benefits.

Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban believes that all veterans should get the benefits they are entitled to. If you or a loved one has had a burn-pit illness claim denied, our accredited veterans’ benefits attorneys can help. Call us from anywhere in the nation at 866-866-VETS or contact our office online.


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