On March 3, 2022, the United States House of Representatives passed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. With the new legislation in place, military veterans would be eligible for compensation and free treatment of health conditions that developed as a result of their time in the service. The bill then passed the Senate by an 84-14 vote in June, and President Joe Biden vowed to sign it when it reached his desk. This seemed very promising for veterans and their families.

However, just this month, after technical errors were addressed in the original measure, it was sent back to the Senate, and in round two, Senate Republicans opted to block it. They cited concerns over how the money would be allocated. Democrats were furious, and publicly stated that more veterans will die as a result.

The future of the PACT Act is unknown. The measure is expected to eventually pass—it’s only a matter of time. But, unfortunately, time is not something that many suffering vets have.

Although now back at home, vets continue to live the horrors of war, once again fighting for their lives after being routinely exposed to asbestos and other harmful substances. One of the most common means of exposure was the use of burn pits. What are burn pits, exactly, and why the need for treatment?

Toxic Burn Pits Expose Vets to 1,000 Known Carcinogens

There have been more than 1,000 carcinogens identified in burn pits and, in April of this year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) shared the nine most prominent respiratory cancers that have surfaced as a result of their use. 

Veterans have developed cancers related to toxic burn pits, including:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx
  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea
  •  Adenocarcinoma of the trachea
  •  Salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea
  •  Adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung
  •  Large cell carcinoma of the lung
  •  Salivary gland-type tumors of the lung
  • Sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung
  • Typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung

The government indicated that it would process disability compensation claims for anyone who served in the military in Southwest Asia dating back to August 1990 and is reporting having one or more of these cancers (or other chronic conditions) as well as those who have served in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria or Djibouti beginning September 19, 2001, to the present.

Veterans benefits and presumptive conditions

If a service person develops what is referred to as a ‘presumptive condition,’ according to PACT, like asthma or sinusitis, the VA automatically assumes that it was contracted during their time in the service because of its high level of prevalence. Shortness of breath, an unrelenting cough and chest tightness are some of the symptoms to look out for. Another condition that is presumed to be a cause of war includes Pulmonary Fibrosis, which occurs when lung tissue is damaged from breathing in toxins.

Burn pits seem to be largely to blame for many of the health conditions being reported. 

Hazardous waste was routinely thrown into these pits and set aflame in an effort to “safely” get rid of it. The trash often included all of the following, in addition to other potentially harmful materials, and burning it was anything but safe:

  • Medical waste
  •  Human waste
  • Construction waste
  • Wood
  • Metal
  • Rubber
  • Plastics
  • Aluminum

When fire was set to these materials, dust, debris smoke and fumes became airborne and there were often toxic particles released into the air. These particles could easily be accidentally ingested.

Some of the materials discarded in the pits contained asbestos. Asbestos particles, when airborne, tend to get lodged in the lining of the lungs. This can lead to not only all of the cancers listed above, but to other forms of cancer and chronic respiratory conditions, including asthma, rhinitis, sinusitis and more. Mesothelioma, a deadly cancer known to be caused by exposure to asbestos, is one of the most commonly reported cancers among service men and women.

Does the PACT Act Specifically Cover Asbestos?

The short answer is, ‘Yes.’ Because asbestos is a known toxin and the act covers exposure to toxins, asbestos made the list. It has been found in burn pit debris and, while the U.S. banned the use of asbestos in the late-‘80s, overseas there is far less regulation on its use and how to properly discard it. Because of this, burn pits haven’t been the only sources of asbestos exposure in the military. It was also frequently used in constructing ships, tanks, trucks, aircraft, barracks, and other structures.

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Health research has found many connections between asbestos-related diseases and asbestos exposure while in military service.

A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Radiation Biology found that mesothelioma deaths are the highest amongst those who served in the navy. This is because asbestos was used in multiple areas of ships, inside and out. Marines, according to the same study, were most susceptible to exposure in armored vehicles. And, while the places of exposure varied, in the end, all branches have been impacted.

Compensation for asbestos-related illnesses caused by burn pits while in military service

Asbestos exposure compensation is currently available through the VA. But some have complained that their claims have been denied over the years. The PACT Act, if signed into law, would make it easier to receive funds and treatment due to the addition of presumptive conditions.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms discussed in this article and aren’t sure whether or not you’ve been exposed to asbestos, schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor as soon as possible. Other common symptoms of asbestos-related conditions include:

  • Fluid buildup in the lungs
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Clubbed or rounded fingers
  • Unexpected or unexplained weight loss

Your healthcare provider will be able to run tests to determine if you’ve been exposed. Unfortunately, symptoms of asbestos exposure can take years to surface—even decades. The sooner you catch an asbestos-related disease, the easier it will be to treat, and it’ll be more likely that treatment will be successful.

Fighting asbestos-related diseases can be expensive. If you are a service member and your provider determines you’ve been exposed, you have every right to take advantage of federal funding. File a claim online or have a legal professional walk you through the process.

AsbestosClaims.Law

AsbestosClaims.law is your comprehensive resource for all things asbestos, including info on health and compensation for Air Force Veterans and other former Service Members. We hope this is helpful and are grateful to all who have given of themselves to defend us all.

If you have any additional questions or concerns related to asbestos, check out our website and YouTube page for videos, infographics and answers to your questions about asbestos, including health and safety, asbestos testing, removing asbestos from your home and building, and legal information about compensation for asbestos injuries.

And if you believe that you were exposed to asbestos, or have been diagnosed with an asbestos illness, you could be entitled to significant compensation—money you could use to cover the costs of asbestos removal services, pay for medical treatment, and preemptively protect your physical well-being. 

All without filing a lawsuit.

If you’d like help with filing a claim, please get in touch by email at [email protected], or call or text us at (206) 455-9190. We’ll listen to your story and explain your options. And we never charge for anything unless you receive money in your pocket.

John E. Till, Harold L. Beck, John D. Boice Jr., H. Justin Mohler, Michael T. Mumma, Jill W. Aanenson & Helen A. Grogan (2022) Asbestos exposure and mesothelioma mortality among atomic veterans, International Journal of Radiation Biology, 98:4, 781-785, DOI: 10.1080/09553002.2018.1551641.