February 28, 2017
The scarred lungs of a veteran exposed to a burn pit in Iraq. Heâ€™s been diagnosed with constrictive bronchiolitis, an often fatal lung disease.
The Things They Burned
A private contractor tossed U.S. military waste in Iraq and Afghanistan into giant pits and burned it. Now soldiers forced to breathe the toxic fumes are sick or dyingâ€”and the government is using faulty science to evade responsibility.
The Conclusion Quotes:
In most cases, when veterans have sought treatment or disability benefits from the VA for exposure to burn-pit smoke, their claims have been rejected. The Defense Department maintains that there is no proof that the burn pits made soldiers sick. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to a host of environmental hazards: There were toxic particles in dust and sand, chemicals in fuel and exhaust fumes, industrial accidents and sulfur fires. From a purely diagnostic standpoint, ailing veterans could have been injured by any one of these factors, or a combination of them, or none of them at all. By 2010, at least six years after soldiers began falling ill, the Defense Department was still assuring Congress that open-air burning was "the safest, most effective, and most expedientâ€ means to dispose of military trash in a combat theater.
What is happening with the burn pits follows an all-too-familiar pattern of official dishonesty and deception that has been repeated in war after war. First comes denial: The VA didnâ€™t acknowledge the damage caused by Agent Orange until 1991, nearly two decades after combat troops withdrew from Vietnam, and for years it dismissed the neurological condition known as Gulf War syndrome as psychosomatic. Then, once veterans begin to protest, the military agrees to "study the problem.â€ Next, it stalls for as long as possible: Long-term studies are commissionedâ€”some of which can take decades. And finally, the government manipulates the outcome to reach the desired conclusion: that there isnâ€™t enough data to confirm a correlation between the illness and its apparent source. Again and again, from Saigon to Kabul, the government has designed inadequate studies, manipulated data, and ignored relevant academic research, all to avoid responsibility for the harm done to our soldiers. Their illnesses linger and worsen. For some ailing veterans, the delay effectively serves as a death sentence.
"It took the government years to recognize that there was a link between Agent Orange and the devastating health effects on our soldiers,â€ Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, observed in an op-ed for Fox News in May. "Veterans had to wait to get the care they desperately needed and clearly earned. Today we have a new Agent Orange: burn pits.â€
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