Burn Pits 101: Service Members are Fighting Back

This is the second installment in the series on Burn Pits in Iraq & Afghanistan. For the first installment, see this blog post.

Service Members are Fighting Back

In 2010, over 60 lawsuits across the country were brought against the government contractor KBR relating to its operation of the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were consolidated in In re KBR Inc. BurnPit Litigation, alleging that KBR exposed service members and civilian contract workers to harmful fumes from its unauthorized use of open-air burn pits, thereby causing various serious injuries. However, in June 2018, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the case could not move forward. The ruling was based on a legal doctrine that courts cannot decide political questions, that is,questions that are better decided by Congress and the president. This was because the panel of judges deciding the case found that the United States military had control over KBR so that KBR’s decisions regarding the burn pits were “de facto military decisions.”

However, in a Worker’s Compensation case filed in the U.S. Department of Labor, an administrative law judge found exposure to burn pits was linked to lung disease.[1]This case concerned a federal contractor, not a service member, and was not connected to the KBR litigation. Thus, it is not clear what effect, if any,this decision may have on the ongoing burn pit crisis.

In May of this year,Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Brian Mast (R-Florida), both post-9/11 combat veterans, introduced the Burn Pits Accountability Act. The Act would require the Department of Defense to evaluate whether service members have been exposed to burn pits or other toxic airborne chemicals. Service members who have been exposed will be enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs Burn Pit Registry unless they opt out. The Act is still pending a vote.

In June, the House of Representatives held a hearing to determine what is known about the health effects of burn pits. Members of various veterans’ organizations testified at the hearing, though no representative from the Department of Defense attended. In August 2018, General Patraeus sent a letter to all Congressional offices urging them to support the Burn Pits Accountability Act.

Many Veterans Service Organizations and non-profits support efforts aimed at increasing our knowledge of the effects of burn pits, as well as providing supports to veterans living with the consequences of exposure to burn pits. However, there is still much more the VA can and needs to do to support our veterans. So what can veterans do now?

What Can Service Members or Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Do?

Any veterans or service members who are experiencing health conditions that may be related to their exposure to burn pits can file for VA Disability Compensation. However, these claims are considered on a case-by-case basis, meaning service members will not get any special treatment if they claim their conditions are connected to their exposure to burn pits. However, VA regional offices have been instructed to review all claims for disability compensation for potential exposure to burn pits, even if it is not alleged.[2]

They should also consider registering with the VA’s Burn Pits Registry, and/or the Burn Pits 360’s registry. Individuals who register with the VA can receive a free health evaluation.


[1] https://taskandpurpose.com/burn-pits-court-ruling-va/

[2] Id. at 11.

Why Should I Pay For An Attorney When I Can Work With A VSO For Free?

I hear a lot of veterans question why attorneys should charge money to do something a VSO will do for free, and I get it. No one wants to give money to someone if someone else can get the job done for free. This is why many veterans choose to get help from a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) rather than hire an attorney to handle their VA Disability Compensation claim. But as Warren Buffett said, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” Sometimes the cheapest route is not the most valuable. Continue reading “Why Should I Pay For An Attorney When I Can Work With A VSO For Free?”

Do I Need a Lawyer for my VA Disability Compensation Claim?

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, first: Yes, I am a lawyer. Yes, this post is about whether you need a lawyer. Yes, this could be seen as a self-serving post. But there is something else you should know: I don’t want your case if you don’t want a lawyer, and even if you do, I personally may not even be the right lawyer for you. I do, however, want to help you figure out if you should spend your time and resources to hire a lawyer, because not every person should, or can. Whether you hire a lawyer to help with your VA Disability Compensation claim is a decision you should give a lot of thought to. Here are the two main questions to get you started.  Continue reading “Do I Need a Lawyer for my VA Disability Compensation Claim?”

What additional benefits are available to veterans who use orthopedic or assistive devices?

Though my firm handles VA Disability Compensation benefits, I also try to lead my clients in the right direction for other resources for which they may be eligible. Veterans who use orthopedic or assistive devices, such as prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs, and home medical equipment, have a number of resources they can tap to get the most out of their VA benefits. Continue reading “What additional benefits are available to veterans who use orthopedic or assistive devices?”

Why Was my Claim for VA Disability Compensation Benefits Denied?

In every denial letter, the VA must explain why they have denied the claim. Though each claim is different, here are 6 common reasons why a VA Disability Compensation claim may be denied. Continue reading “Why Was my Claim for VA Disability Compensation Benefits Denied?”