Burn Pits Leave Lasting Mark on Soldiers' Health

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Photo from SIGAR Inspection Report on Forwarding Operating Base Salerno Incinerators and Open-Air Burn Pit. (flickr)

It's commonly understood that soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan often return with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and other physical signs of combat. But lesser known is the fact that for some time now, doctors have seen an alarming number of veterans return from the front lines with respiratory diseases and rare forms of cancer -- and it may have to do with the way the military is getting rid of its garbage.

Congressman Tim Bishop, a Democrat from New York, is one of the legislators behind a bipartisan effort to regulate the military's use of burn pits; large open-air ditches into which all waste on a military base is thrown, covered in jet fuel, and lit on fire.

“There are four burn pits operating in Afghanistan right now," said Bishop. "That is down from a high of over 250 burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. So there has been progress. Slow progress to be sure."

And there is another, perhaps bigger issue to deal with.

“Getting both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to acknowledge that there are, in fact, long term health risks associated with exposure to the kinds of toxins that these burn pits have presented for so many of our troops," said Bishop. "That's a process that, frankly, we're still fighting."

The DOD and VA haven't been tracking just how many veterans report these kinds of health problems.

But Dr. Robert Miller, a physician in Tennessee and Vanderbilt professor, has diagnosed dozens of veterans with a rare lung disease called constrictive bronchiolitis after they were exposed to burn pits.

Katie Drummond, science editor for the news site The Verge, investigated this issue and recently wrote about how burn pits have made soldiers sick and how the Department of Defense and the VA are doing little to help them.


Congressman Tim Bishop and Katie Drummond

Produced by:

Katie Hiler


Gianna Palmer

Comments [5]


I would love to join in litigation for compensation from illnesses/diseases I got from the Burn Pits in Afghanistan at Bagram Air Force Base. They burned all kinds of trash, excrement, medical waste, and other nasty stuff and then lit it with JP-8 which is jet fuel. Needless to say, the smoke went everywhere and affected a lot of people.

I told the CJTF-180 G-3 Operations Officer that the smoke and the stuff that was coming over the base was not good for us and he said "Colonel, go back to your office and do your job". He was a total moron and I was pissed because my Army Reserve Unit was at the Army Environmental Policy Institute and I also worked for FEMA and then CDC, so I think I know what I am talking about.

I got Chronic Obstructuve Pulmonary Disease (COPD) w/emphysema, bad sinus problems that required sinus surgery and still get continual sinus infections, allergies, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a fast heart rate and an enlarged prostate. I was only there 9 months, but I got the above. I didn't have any of this before I deployed and yet after 9 months when I went back to the States, they found these problems. I also had very severe osteoporosis and don't know how I got that either. I also have Growth Hormone Deficiency which was found by a doctor when I was going through a medical evaluation board.

I would definitely like to be involved in this litigation and if you would be so kind as to let me know how to join, I will do whatever you need me to do. COPD is a disease for which there is no cure, so I have a death sentence that will kill me sooner rather than later and someone needs to be held responsible.

Please contact me if you need more info. I am in Florida for Thanksgiving, but can check e-mail and have a cell phone. You are getting my e-mail here and my cell number is.

Thanks and have a great day,

Very Respectfully,

Nov. 24 2015 01:09 AM
Burn Pit Voices from USA

We are sharing with Americans today an easy sample Congressional Letter in support of H.R. 2510 Helping Veterans Exposed to Toxic Chemicals Act H.R. 2510

Below - you will find an example of a letter to your Representative or Senator. In an email send this to your Congressman's website today, fill out your contact information and submit the body of the letter in the message section to Representative or Senator without delay.

Thank You for Americans for contacting your elected officials today and telling them that we are taking exposure to Open-Air Burn Pits used in the war zone seriously and we want our veteran’s health cared for today.

The Honorable ________
Office Address
United States House of Representatives/United State Senate
City, State, Zip

Dear Representative:________

Advocate for veterans in the State of ________ and across the country, a combat veteran and a constituent, we urge you to co-sponsor and support H.R. 2510 Helping Veterans Exposed to Toxic Chemicals Act - To direct the Secretary of Defense to establish within the Department of Defense centers of excellence in the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of health conditions relating to exposure to Open-Air Burn Pits in war zones.

To authorize and to be appropriated to carry out section 2 of H.R. 2510 introduced by Rep. Bishop, Timothy H. [D-NY-1] 26 June 2013 and referred to the Subcommittee on Readiness 29 August 2013, $30,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2014 through 2019.

Funding is the foundation for future medical help for our military veterans, which will save lives and money. The federal government’s investment in research must be sustained in order to translate today’s scientific findings into tomorrow’s bedside treatments.

Establish Centers of Excellence to collaborate to the maximum extent practicable with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, institutions of higher education, and other appropriate public and private entities.

Conduct basic science and translational research on health conditions relating to daily exposure to Open-Air Burn Pits war zone environmental exposures for the purposes of understanding the etiology of such conditions and developing preventive interventions and new treatments.

A federal investment in basic research is an investment in the heath and economic future of our nation veterans. Please make medical and health research a higher priority for our nation veterans by continuing the investment in the care for our brave veterans. Thank you for your consideration and please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss this issue further.


Your Name
Your Title
Your Address
Your City, State, Zip
Your Phone Number

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Nov. 23 2013 07:04 AM
Louis Correa from La Habra, Ca.

Give it 20 to 30 years after, Ken Hudson! I ran, and lifted weights all of my life! Didn't smoke/chew. I felt a lump in my chin/jaw area: cancer! 40% of the base of my tongue was removed! That was May of '99, 30 years after!

Oct. 31 2013 08:34 PM
Ken Hudson from Midlothian, TX

I served about nine months on Joint Base Anaconda, Balad, Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and I am just fine. Even ran the Army 10-Miler. Have not experienced any health-related events to this date.

Oct. 31 2013 12:40 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Only the enemy should ever have a chance to kill our own soldiers. When we go to war, we must protect our military from Burn Pits that create toxic waste.
I don care if we have to send in a special Force Recycler Units into Afghanistan and Iraq. They can come in with blue bags instead of body bags.

Oct. 31 2013 10:30 AM

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