For Immediate Release
Contact: John Hoellwarth
National Communications Director
AMVETS (American Veterans)
AMVETS Pleased With Judge’s Ruling Connecting Illnesses to Burn Pits
AMVETS National Headquarters, Feb. 16, 2018 – In a ruling that vindicated nearly 64,000 U.S. service members who were exposed to open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, a judge found in favor of previously denied claims that linked exposure to subsequent health problems suffered by troops who had deployed to the region.
Prior to the ruling, the Department of Veterans Affairs held that there was no proven link between the cancers, respiratory ailments, and other serious conditions that many veterans attributed to their constant exposure to burn pits while deployed to the Middle East.
“The ruling is bittersweet,” said Joe Chenelly, executive director for American Veterans. “While the judge made the right decision in our view, and those veterans who were affected will finally get the benefits and healthcare they need and deserve, it took fighting overseas then having to come home to another fight to get what they should’ve gotten from the start.”
“One would think our government would’ve learned its lesson from the Agent Orange-related conditions that resulted in either loss of life or permanent disability for thousands of Vietnam War veterans before a connection to military service was finally acknowledged decades later,” Chenelly said.
The burn-pit case was brought before the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office for Workers’ Compensation Programs by contractors who had worked around burn pits alongside military personnel after several official reports maintained that evidence of a causal connection was inconclusive.
According to an October 2011 report published by the Institute of Medicine, “Insufficient data on service members’ exposures to emissions from open-air burn pits for trash on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan is one of the reasons why it is not possible to say whether these emissions could cause long-term health effects.”
The finding meant thousands of veterans would be denied compensation, healthcare, and other benefits despite the growing number who served in the region and suffer a higher incidence of certain conditions than service members who had not. Despite this setback, following the passage of Public Law 112-260 in January of 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs finally established an open burn pit Registry in order to identify and monitor potential health trends among veterans who reported exposure to airborne environmental hazards. The stated goal of the Registry was to improve outreach, communication, and Veterans Health Administration programs for eligible veterans.
“We know who these veterans are. Now that we know their claims of toxic exposure are valid, it’s time for our country to make them whole without further delay,” Chenelly concluded.
AMVETS is the nation’s most inclusive Congressionally-chartered veterans service organization. It is open to and fights for all veterans who served honorably, including reservists & guardsmen. AMVETS has been a nonpartisan advocate for veterans and their families for more than 70 years. The non-profit organization’s mission is to enhance and safeguard the entitlements for all American Veterans who have served honorably, and to improve the quality of life for all veterans, their families, and the communities where they live through leadership, advocacy and services.