Burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq incinerated tons of human waste, chemicals, plastics, and metals. Many veterans – and civilian contractors – worked in close proximity of the pits; many of the veterans and contractors have respiratory illnesses, neurological disorder, cancers, and ALS as a result. Only one study has been done thus far to examine the long term health impacts. In 2011 the Institute of Medicine reported that evidence was insufficient to draw any kind of relationship between exposure to burn pit pollution and diseases.
Despite the report, anecdotal evidence seems to indicate some relationship. Enough veterans are showing similar signs of illnesses after exposure to create a class in a class action burn pit lawsuit against KBR, one of the companies responsible for waste disposal and burn pit operations. Recent reports have made it clear that burn pit operations were substandard. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported earlier this year that an audit disclosed woefully shoddy and irresponsible burn pit operations at Camp Leatherneck. As a result, Congress established the burn pit registry which the VA is administrating.
In the meantime, similarly situated veterans created 44 separate class action lawsuits and filed a complaint against KBR. Those suits were combined into a single case in Maryland, which was dismissed under a ruling that KBR should receive the same legal protections as the military – i.e., what is known as sovereign immunity. The veterans have appealed this decision, and that appeal will determine whether the veterans will receive the opportunity – their day in court – to argue the substance of their claim. For a full article, see the Army Times, October 20, 2013.