Report Summary

Title: Veterans Prematurely Denied Compensation for Conditions That Could Be Associated with Burn Pit Exposure
Report Number: 21-02704-135 Download
Issue Date: 7/21/2022
VA Office: Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)
Report Author: Office of Audits and Evaluations
Report Type: Review
Release Type: Unrestricted

VA recognizes exposure to smoke from the large burn pits used by the US military to dispose of waste from its bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Djibouti as a potential cause of disabilities. Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) staff processed more than 21,100 burn pit-related claims from June 2007 through September 2021. Given the potential impact on many eligible veterans, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted this review to determine whether VBA staff followed regulations and procedures when addressing conditions that could be associated with burn pit exposure.

VBA treats burn pit-related claims like most other disability compensation claims, though it also considers exposure to environmental hazards based on a veteran’s service location. VBA provides medical examiners a burn pit fact sheet to help ensure any opinion is fully informed based on all known objective facts.

The review team examined three distinct samples of claimed conditions potentially related to burn pit exposure completed from May 1, 2020, to May 1, 2021, and found VBA could improve its processing and oversight. Though VBA staff nearly always made the correct decision in granting compensation for conditions identified as burn pit-related, the OIG found most denials were premature.

The OIG made seven recommendations to VBA management, including correcting four errors involving improperly granted conditions, and reviewing denied cases, correcting errors they identify, and certifying that corrections were made. VBA should also update its adjudication procedures manual to provide separate and specific guidance for handling claims based on burn pit exposure and modify its examination request application to add specialty language from the burn pit fact sheet into medical opinion requests. Finally, VBA should update training materials and ensure they are consistent with the adjudication procedures manual guidance.