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Were you exposed to burn pits while deployed?

Image of female Airman tossing old uniforms into a firepit to be burned

An airman tosses uniforms into a burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq, in 2008. The military burns unusable uniforms so they don't end up in enemy hands. Photo by: Senior Airman Julianne Showalter, USAF

By Hans Petersen
Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Were you exposed to burn pits while deployed?

Did you serve in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn, Djibouti, Africa, Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm or the Southeast Asia theater of operations after August, 1990?

Do you think you may have been exposed to burn pits and other airborne hazards?

Some Veterans have reported respiratory symptoms and health conditions that may be related to exposure to burn pits. The long-term health effects of exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards are not fully understood. In an effort to better understand these health effects, VA has launched the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry for Veterans and Servicemembers.

“While nearly 61,000 Veterans and Servicemembers have joined the Burn Pit Registry since its launch nearly two years ago, this is only a small fraction of the estimated 3 million individuals who may be eligible to join this registry,” said Dr. Stephen Hunt, National Director of VA’s Post-Deployment Integrated Care Initiative. “I encourage as many eligible individuals as possible to sign up for the Burn Pit Registry.”

“It provides Veterans long term follow up for any conditions they have or could emerge down the road.”

Since the early 1980s, Dr. Hunt has conducted registry exams for the Agent Orange, Former POW, Gulf War, Ionizing Radiation, and the Airborne Hazards and the Open Burn Pit Registries. According to Dr. Hunt, the Burn Pit Registry will help Veterans in a number of ways.

The Registry gives participants an opportunity to document any concerns they may have about deployment-related exposures and provides an opportunity to obtain a free health evaluation by a VA or DoD provider. The evaluation can identify and document any problems potentially related to the exposures and ensure ongoing follow up for any existing health conditions or any additional conditions that could emerge down the road.

One challenge when addressing environmental exposures is that we don’t always know what the long-term health effects of those exposures may be or when those health concerns might arise. Some exposures don’t lead to any long-term problems. Others, however, may have long-term or downstream health effects that aren’t identifiable early on. Through the registry, if health conditions related to exposures do emerge months or years later, we will be able to identify them more quickly and to make sure that Veterans get the health care that they need in a timely manner.

A common misunderstanding about the registry is that participation is required to obtain disability compensation benefits. This is not true. The burn pit registry and all other VA registries are unrelated to the disability compensation rating process. While a Registry note in your medical record summarizing your exposure concerns and related medical treatment may serve as evidence to support a claim, it is not a necessary document or step in the claims process.

The registry is open to anyone who served in:

  • Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New     Dawn
  • Djibouti, Africa on or after Sept. 11, 2001
  • Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm
  • Southwest Asia theater of operations on or after Aug. 2, 1990

Interested Veterans and Servicemembers can learn more about the registry in this short video, or sign up. “Ultimately, our goal in VA is to have 22 million healthy Veterans using VA services and resources as needed to ensure that they enjoy the most meaningful, satisfying, and productive lives possible,” said Hunt.

“The Burn Pit Registry is a nice way for Veterans to get their foot in the door at the VA and to explore the services, benefits and resources available to them through VA health care.”

The Burn Pit Registry is one more reflection of how far VA has come. It is a measure of how much progress we’ve made in taking care of individuals with deployment-related exposure concerns, and in taking care of Veterans in general.

Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn Djibouti, Africa on or after Sept. 11, 2001 Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm Southeast Asia theater of operations on or after Aug. 2, 1990.

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