President Joe Biden marked the one-year anniversary of the PACT Act, a law that is personal to him, during a speech in Utah.
Biden spoke to veterans at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City to highlight the one-year anniversary of the PACT Act, which has already provided 4.1 million veterans with free screenings for toxic exposures and processed nearly 459,000 claims, according to the White House.
Biden said he did not want to see today’s veterans suffer the way U.S. veterans who fought in Vietnam did by having to prove that exposure to Agent Orange during that war had caused health problems later.
“The PACT Act means today’s veterans and their families will not suffer the same painful frustrating delays and denials,” Biden said.
Many Americans who voted for Biden in 2020 say they believe the economy has fared poorly under his stewardship, and they might not vote for him in the 2024 election, according to a recent poll.
Burn Pit Use
Many hikers and campers use mini-burn pits. They simply throw their trash into the campfire. This low-volume waste disposal method is not harmful to human health, even in the unlikely event that someone stands over the campfire and deeply inhales the fumes. Furthermore, this waste disposal method is much more environmentally friendly than throwing refuse into the garbage.
The science behind huge Southwest Asia burn pits is similar. But the similarities between campfires and burn pits end there.
Officials estimate that about 3.5 million veterans breathed dangerously high levels of burn pit smoke. The number of infected contractors, as well as their individual exposure level, might be even higher. Usually, contractors were the office temps of the Afghanistan War. They got the dirty jobs, like burn pit maintenance, no one else wanted.
In terms of environmental impact, burn pits have been compared to the Kuwaiti oil field fires following the 1991 Gulf War. Beginning in 2010, U.S. forces used open-air waste disposal pits not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in many other parts of the world, such as Djibouti, Diego Garcia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea.
The largest of these burn pits, which were mostly in Afghanistan, burned several tons of waste. This garbage includes rubber tires, plastic water bottles, and other items that release toxic fumes when burned. These toxins include:
- Particulate matter,
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,
- Volatile organic compounds,
- Carbon monoxide,
- Hexachlorobenzene, and
According to Leon Russell Keith, a military contractor stationed at Iraq’s Joint Base Balad who testified at a Senate hearing in 2009, ash was everywhere, including on beds and clothes. He said thick black smoke filled the air, even in the barracks, where it permanently stained sheets. Another soldier likened the smoke to “like San Francisco fog.” Another called it “pollen dust.” The color of the smoke could be blue and black or yellow and orange, but was usually jet black.
Burn Pit Injuries
High amounts of particulate matter cause lung disease. That is especially true if benzene, a toxic ingredient usually found in jet fuel, is in the mix. Generally, burn pit workers doused the garbage with jet fuel to start the fire.
In 2011, the Institute of Medicine reviewed the scientific literature related to the possibility of adverse long-term health effects of open burn pits. The report noted U.S. Department of Defense air quality monitoring data measured levels of particulate matter (PM) well above safe levels. It also cited work linking high PM levels to cardiopulmonary effects, particularly in individuals at increased risk due to pre-existing conditions such as asthma and emphysema. Some burn pit lung and breathing diseases include:
- Reproductive Health Outcomes: Toxins from burn pits can have adverse birth outcomes (low birth weight, preterm delivery, and increased risk of birth defects). Additionally, there is growing evidence to suggest a reduction in sperm quality associated with burn pits.
- High Blood Pressure: According to a study from the Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, one-third of those exposed to burn pits were diagnosed with high blood pressure.
- Respiratory Disorders: 30% of participants in the Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry were diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.
- Cancer: It is believed one veteran’s fatal pancreatic cancer is associated with burn pit exposure. In one study using Burn Pits 360’s registry, there is a higher rate of proportionate cancer mortality among deceased veterans.
The cancer issue is very personal to Biden, which is the main reason he rammed the PACT Act through Congress. Beau Biden did two tours in Iraq as a JAG officer. Shortly after he came home, he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. “Because of exposure to burn pits — in my view, I can’t prove it yet — he came back with stage four glioblastoma,” the elder Biden said during a 2019 speech.
Note that much of this data comes from the government’s Burn Pit Registry, which it started in 2014. Several years later, as the bad news kept pouring in, the government abruptly shut down the registry.
Burn Pits and the Defense Base Act
Military veterans have been eligible for burn pit VA disability benefits for barely a year. Before then, the VA usually blamed lung diseases on the dust and particulate matter of the Arabian Desert. They claimed more serious cases, like brain cancer, were one-off flukes.
In contrast, private military contractors have been eligible for burn pit benefits since the mid-2010s. These serious diseases usually cause sky-high medical bills. Fortunately, the Defense Base Act pays all reasonably necessary medical bills in these cases, such as:
- Transportation costs,
- Emergency Care,
- Follow-up treatment,
- Medical devices,
- Prescription drugs, and
- Physical therapy.
To many insurance companies, “reasonably necessary” means “cheapest available.” Most adjusters care nothing about what is best for victims. They just want what’s best for their bosses.
Fortunately, injured contractors can usually choose their own doctors. These doctors evaluate patients and recommend treatment plans based on nothing other than the patient’s health and safety.
For more information about DBA lost wage replacement, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.