Vermont National Guard urges vets exposed to toxic burn pits to seek benefits

Vermont News

VERMONT (WFFF) — The Vermont National Guard is asking veterans who were exposed to burn pits to help the Department of Veterans Affairs gather data on the health effects of exposure to airborne hazards.

Gregory C. Knight, adjutant general for the Vermont National Guard, served in Ramadi, Iraq, where burn pits —large areas on military bases used to destroy toxic waste—were commonplace. “It was pretty large,” he said, “and it was burning 24/7.”

Knight, who has lingering health issues from the exposure, is among more than 700 members enrolled in a burn pit registry aimed at gathering information to help the VA provide care. To be eligible for benefits, veterans must show they served in an area where burn pits were used, as well as evidence of health conditions related to exposure within 10 years of leaving active duty.

Knight said thousands of National Guard members deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas in southwest Asia were exposed to the potential hazards of burn pits. He said a little bit of everything went into the pit: pressure-treated lumber, batteries, tires, paint, medical waste, even human waste. “And it’s in the air all the time,” he said. 

The Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs helps vets file claims to receive benefits. In August, the VA added three presumptive conditions related to the toxic exposure: asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis.

Knight urged veterans exposed to burn pits to enroll in the registry. He said it is important for members to also sign a release of medical information from their primary care providers to the VA. “They served, they volunteered, they went on challenging deployments, the least we can do is take care of them on the backside,” he said.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is among those advocating for veterans with diseases linked to burn pits. In a statement, she said that the link between exposure to burn pits and the “devastating” effects of respiratory illnesses and rare cancers is clear. “No one should have to spend years jumping through hoops, doing research, and paying for doctors and biopsies to prove to the VA that their illness is service-related,” she said.

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