It appears that “burn pits” are yet another health risk facing our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the more obvious dangers facing our troops, the emergence of burn pits and their waste have caused a bit of debate among health officials and the military.

The open-air pits, which are used instead of enclosed incinerators, have become commonplace on some of the Iraq and Afghanistan bases and outposts, leaving soldiers vulnerable to the smoke and refuse they release into the air as the waste burns.

It wasn’t long ago that the military insisted that soldiers who were stationed near burn pits faced no long-term health risks, and were only at risk for temporary resparatory problems (persistent coughing) and eye irritation. Now, it appears the military is backing off those claims.

A top military health official, Dr. Craig Postlewaite, cited in a recent media interview that certain troops, who have other medical conditions, may be at risk for long-term effects. He went on to state that the level of risk a soldier faces is largely dependant upon genetics and pre-existing health conditions.

The failure by the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to recognize burn-pit exposure has led to a large rumbling from our country’s veterans. As a result both groups have agreed to conduct a larger study of troops to determine what other health effects there could be.

Soldiers and disabled veterans have complained of symptoms ranging from chronic bronchitis, asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs and allergy-like symptoms to more serious health issues including heart problems, lymphoma and leukemia.

The Disabled American Veterans Organization has been keeping a database of troops who report problems related to the pit. In one year, nearly 500 service members or their families have come forward, said the DAV's John Wilson.

Disabled veterans who were exposed to burn pits are encouraged to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as a qualified veterans disability lawyer to help determine what benefits may be available to them.

James R. Keller
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