Civilian contractors, working overseas and covered under the Defense Base Act, may have been exposed to toxins from burn pits during their employment. Unfortunately, most of these claims have been denied by Employer/Carriers, forcing injured workers to prove their condition was caused by exposure during employment. Obtaining medical evidence to connect a condition to exposure has been difficult. It has taken many years for science and medicine to determine a causal link between toxic exposure and resulting injuries. However, this toxic exposure not only impacted civilian contractors, but also members of the U.S. Armed Forces. With the prevalence of injury and disease to U.S. Servicemembers, pressure mounted on the U.S. Government to provide assistance. Finally, this past week the U.S. Congress passed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act (PACT Act) which President Biden signed into law.
Burn pits were large areas where trash and other items for disposal were gathered and then burned. In Afghanistan, one burn pit was almost 10 acres in size. To ignite a burn pit, often times jet fuel was poured on the trash and then lit on fire. Some of the burned trash contained cancer causing carcinogens which were released into the air when burned. Many U.S. Servicemembers worked around these burn pits and were breathing the toxic air. Over time, many U.S. Servicemembers developed illnesses which were either ignored or simply labeled the Iraqi or Afghani “crud”.
The PACT Act only provides benefits to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who were injured after being exposed to burn pits. The law does not apply to civilian contractors covered under the Defense Base Act. However, because the PACT Act details certain injuries related to burn pit exposure, we believe this will benefit civilian contractors who sustained one of the acknowledged conditions.
The PACT Act creates a presumption in favor of injured U.S. Servicemembers that certain conditions are related to burn pit exposure. Said another way, if a U.S. Servicemember was exposed to burn pits and thereafter developed one of the accepted conditions, they will now automatically be entitled to medical care from the Veteran’s Administration. The U.S Servicemember will not have to prove their conditions were caused by burn pit exposure. Some of the accepted and recognized conditions of burn pit exposure include Asthma; Head cancer of any type; Neck cancer of any type, Respiratory cancer of any type; Gastrointestinal cancer of any type; Reproductive cancer of any type; Lymphoma cancer of any type; Lymphatic cancer of any type; Kidney cancer; Brain cancer; Melanoma; Pancreatic cancer; Chronic bronchitis; Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis; Emphysema; Granulomatous disease; Interstitial lung disease; Pleuritis; Pulmonary fibrosis; Sarcoidosis; Chronic sinusitis; Chronic rhinitis; Glioblastoma.
To qualify for medical benefits under the PACT Act, a U.S. Servicemember must establish that symptoms developed within 10 years of the military service exposure from a qualifying country. Some of the qualifying countries include Iraq, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Djibouti and Kuwait..
However, it is important to note a civilian contractor covered under the Defense Base Act is not entitled to this presumption of causal relationship. Under the Defense Base Act, the burden remains with the civilian contractor to prove they were exposed to burn pits, to prove the duration and extent of exposure and then to have a doctor provide a medical opinion linking the burn pit exposure to the civilian contractor’s condition. Thereafter, the Employer/Carrier can still dispute the causal relationship to deny benefits. Ultimately, a Judge would have to rule based upon the evidence.
Over time, medical research will further clarify conditions related to burn pit exposure. This research will certainly benefit civilian contractors covered under the Defense Base Act. Should you, family or friends who worked around burn pits in a qualifying country develop any of the qualifying conditions, we strongly urge you to contact your medical provider. You should discuss with your doctor, in detail, your work, the distance to burn pits, the frequency of burn pit exposure and the length of time working at or near burn pits. With this information, your doctor may be able to determine whether your condition may be burn pit related. If your doctor issues a report that your condition was caused by burn pit exposure, we urge you to immediately notify the Employer who had you work at or near burn pits. We will gladly evaluate the claim to see if we can pursue DBA Benefits on your behalf.