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VA to Gather Data on Alleged Burn-Pit Victims
Kerry Baker, DAV’s assistant national legislative director, issued an update Tuesday in which he reported that about 182 veterans are in the database. Of those, 48 have developed lymphoma, leukemia or some other form of cancer. Another 55 reported pulmonary disorders, including asthma and asthma-like symptoms. Other reported conditions include multiple sclerosis, sleep apnea and heart problems. At least 16 veterans entered into the database have died, Baker said.
The Veterans Affairs Department is gathering data to monitor potential health problems in troops who say they were made ill by exposure to smoke from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a letter to Congress.
Responding to a letter sent in early February by Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., and several other House lawmakers, Shinseki said data on exposure to burning trash and waste are already a part of a large, ongoing population-based study comparing the health of 30,000 veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with the health of 30,000 nondeployed veterans.
That study evaluates “self-reported exposures (including burning trash and feces), symptoms, chronic health conditions, functional status, pregnancy outcomes and health care utilization,” Shinseki wrote in his March 13 letter, a copy of which was provided to Military Times by Bishop’s office.
Shinseki also said VA will work with the Defense Department to obtain “all relevant exposure data” on veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “with the goal of establishing potential correlations with health problems among affected veterans.”
“Our scientists will also review data gathered from DoD’s Post-Deployment Health Assessment surveys, which ask about exposure to smoke from burn pits, subsequent symptoms, and a variety of other health-related questions,” he wrote.
He also said it is “essential” for VA to educate its health care providers about toxic exposures and possible long-term health effects related to the burn pits.
But Shinseki stopped short of saying that VA will directly monitor levels of toxic substances in veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, only that his department would “evaluate the feasibility” of such monitoring efforts.
“Most toxic materials from burn pits may be eliminated from the bodies of exposed veterans in a matter of days or weeks,” Shinseki wrote.
That is the same view espoused by defense officials, who say that health effects as a result of exposure to burn pit smoke are likely to be temporary and should clear up once troops return home.
But a growing number of service members who say they were exposed to everything from burning petroleum products to plastics to batteries in burn pits used to dispose of waste at every base in Iraq and Afghanistan are reporting more serious adverse health effects that they believe are linked to those exposures.
Tests on the burn pits in the war zones have shown that the fires released dioxins, benzene and volatile organic compounds, including substances known to cause cancer.
Disabled American Veterans is keeping a database of veterans who have contacted DAV to say they are sick and think that burn-pit exposure played a role in their ailments.
Kerry Baker, DAV’s assistant national legislative director, issued an update Tuesday in which he reported that about 182 veterans are in the database. Of those, 48 have developed lymphoma, leukemia or some other form of cancer. Another 55 reported pulmonary disorders, including asthma and asthma-like symptoms. Other reported conditions include multiple sclerosis, sleep apnea and heart problems.
At least 16 veterans entered into the database have died, Baker said.
Shinseki said that VA “has learned important lessons” on veterans’ health issues from the Vietnam War and 1991 Persian Gulf War, “and now strives to anticipate and respond to the needs of veterans who have concerns about environmental exposures.”
“In fact, we are currently evaluating the need for an independent assessment by nongovernmental scientific experts to help us understand the health effects of various combat exposures,” he wrote. “I want to assure you that VA takes very seriously its responsibility to evaluate potential health problems that may result from environmental exposures during combat deployments.”