Were You Exposed to Burn Pits Overseas? We Are Here to Fight for the Compensation You Deserve
If you were exposed to Iraq burn pits as a civilian contractor, talk with us about pursuing compensation under the Defense Base Act. We are here to help when you are dealing with a respiratory disease, cancer, or other illness linked to exposure.
Open-Air Burn Pits in Iraq
A burn pit is an area on a military base used to burn waste. The U.S. military and contractors commonly used open-air burn pits on military installations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. They are most often used for small, short-term operations during which the military cannot establish other waste management practices.
Exposure to a burn pit can be harmful, depending on:
- What the base burned;
- The frequency, duration, and proximity of your exposure;
- The wind and other weather conditions; and
- Whether there were other airborne hazards in the area.
The fumes from the burn pit are an airborne hazard, which can contain toxic substances. When you were exposed to burn pits in Iraq or other nations, you may have breathed in the smoke, gases, sand, dust, and other harmful particles and substances.
What Do They Put in Iraq Burn Pits?
It is common for the military and contractors to put all sorts of waste in burn pits, including:
- Lubricant products,
- Medical waste,
- Human waste,
- Food waste,
- Aluminum and metal cans,
- Munitions and unexploded ordnance,
- Wood, and
In some cases, the service members or contractors operating the burn pits used jet fuel as an accelerant.
Burning these items creates smoke that may be irritating to your eyes, throat, and lungs. You may have experienced symptoms at that time, and you also could be suffering from a long-term health condition because of persistent exposure to toxic fumes.
Department of Defense Acknowledges the Dangers of Burn Pits
The DOD is well-aware that burn pits are harmful. The official policy is that open-air burn pits are prohibited unless no feasible alternative to get rid of waste exists. As of March 2019, nine U.S.-operated or contractor-operated burn pits existed, including seven in Syria, one in Afghanistan, and one in Egypt.
Burn Pits in Iraq: Symptoms of Injury or Disease
The DOD and Veteran Affairs are studying the long-term health effects of exposure to open-air burn pits. Right now, there is no concrete link between specific health conditions and exposure. That is not to say a link does not exist, but there is not enough information. However, there is enough information to be concerned, to support further studies, and to reduce the use of burn pits.
After exposure, short-term symptoms include irritation of the eyes, throat, nose, and lungs, nausea, and headaches. You may experience burning, itchy, dry, or teary eyes. You may deal with congestion, a sore throat, coughing, sneezing, and other respiratory issues. These symptoms often go away soon after your exposure ends.
Long-term effects from exposure can vary significantly depending on what was burned and the duration of exposure. The VA admits you may experience long-term effects related to your skin, eyes, respiratory system, liver, kidneys, central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, and gastrointestinal tract.
Most often, burn pit exposure is linked to respiratory problems, autoimmune disorders, and cancers. Many veterans and contractors suffer from asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), bronchitis, sinusitis, and sleep apnea.
Have You Been Diagnosed with a Medical Condition?
If you have been diagnosed with a medical condition that you believe is related to your exposure to burn pits, contact Grossman Attorneys at Law. We represent civilian contractors exposed to harmful environments overseas who are now suffering from long-term or permanent health conditions. We will thoroughly investigate the connection between your condition and your work overseas.
The Burn Pit Registry
To further study the connection between burn pits and long-term health effects, such as respiratory conditions and cancer, the VA created the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. Veterans and military personnel can document their exposure and health concerns. You must be eligible to use the registry, though.
Eligible individuals are those deployed to:
- Southwest Asia after August 2, 1990, or
- Afghanistan or Djibouti after September 11, 2001.
Relevant operations and campaigns include Desert Shield and Desert Storm (ODS/S), Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Enduring Freedom (OEF), and New Dawn (OND). Relevant regions and countries include Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Djibouti, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Persian Gulf, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, and Red Sea.
Lawsuit for Iraq Open Burn Pits Denied
More than 800 veterans came forward in lawsuits against KBR (previously owned by Halliburton) and other contractors that operated burn pits overseas. The veterans claimed they were exposed to harmful fumes because of the materials incinerated in the burn pits. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found KBR was not liable for its actions regarding waste management because it was under military direction. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was unsuccessful, ultimately ending the litigation against the private companies.
What does this mean for veterans and civilian contractors? If you were exposed to harmful smoke and other air pollutants, your recourse is through the VA, or as a civilian, the Defense Base Act. You cannot sue the burn pit operator that was acting under a U.S. military contract.
Claiming Compensation for Burn Pit Exposure
Veterans who are suffering from disease due to their service can go to the VA for care. But what can you do when you were exposed as a civilian contractor? Talk with us about pursuing benefits under the Defense Base Act.
The Defense Base Act is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). It is a workers’ compensation insurance system for certain federal workers. The Defense Base Act specifically covers civilian contractors who work overseas under U.S. contracts. You may file a workers’ compensation claim to receive medical, wage, and rehabilitation benefits if you were injured or contracted a disease because of your job. Surviving relatives can file claims for death benefits.
Eligibility under the Defense Base Act
Before filing a claim for compensation, you need to determine you are eligible.
First, you must be a worker covered by the law, which includes if you worked for or on:
- A U.S. military base outside the U.S.;
- U.S.-occupied land used for military purposes;
- A civilian contractor overseas under a U.S. government contract; or
- A public work contract with the U.S. government anywhere outside of the continental U.S.
Second, a doctor must diagnose you with an injury or condition that you can prove is connected to your work. Workers’ compensation insurance covers conditions that arose out of and in the course of employment.
However, there is a significant exception to that second requirement. The Zone of Special Danger Doctrine, which was created and expanded by the courts, says the Defense Base Act covers your injury if you worked in a foreign setting that exposed you to danger. In other words, if you worked overseas in a dangerous area, like a war zone, then you are covered based on that alone. You do not have to provide evidence that causally links your condition to your work duties.
Benefits Under the Defense Base Act
Through a workers’ compensation claim under the Defense Base Act, you can receive medical, wage, and vocational rehabilitation benefits. When your claim is approved, the insurance covers all reasonable medical care by the doctor of your choice.
The amount of wage benefits you receive depends on your level of disability: temporary total (TTD), temporary partial (TPD), permanent total (PTD), or permanent partial (PPD). In most cases, you can receive two-thirds of your average weekly wage (AWW), up to a maximum weekly rate, or two-thirds of wages lost due to a partial disability.
We recommend working with us to pursue wage benefits. We make sure your insurance provider accurately calculates your AWW or wage loss. If this figure is miscalculated, you may not receive all the disability benefits you are entitled to.
If you have a permanent disability due to your occupational disease, you can receive vocational rehabilitation services.
If your loved one was a civilian contractor and passed away from cancer or another work-related condition, talk with us about pursuing death benefits. As a surviving spouse, you may be entitled to half their AWW if you have one child or two-thirds of their AWW if you have two or more children. You also can receive up to $3,000 for reasonable funeral expenses.
Get Started with Your Burn Pit Claim
If you have been diagnosed with a medical condition that you believe is related to working with or near a burn pit, notify your employer right away and request authorization to receive medical care. Make sure your employer completes Form LS-201.
If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to Grossman Attorneys at Law at 561-368-8048 or through our online form.