The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced it intended to add nine rare respiratory cancers related to toxic chemical exposure to its presumptive list of service-connected conditions due to exposure to burn pits. Once confirmed, these respiratory cancers will apply to veterans who served any amount of time in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations from August 2, 1990, all the way through to our service members who are currently serving.
The VA made this announcement on March 1, 2022, as part of the Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act of 2021. This bill was passed with the intention of expanding access to health care and disability compensation for veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals in the air, water, and soil during their military service. The VA came to this conclusion through the recommendation of the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) newly formed Health Outcomes Military Exposures team. This team led a focused review of scientific and medical evidence over the course of the past year in relation to exposure to particulate matters and toxic chemicals in the air, water, and soil and the subsequent development of rare respiratory cancers.
Based on the findings of the Health Outcomes Military Exposures team, the VA is considering adding the following nine respiratory cancers to the presumptive list to our service members who served in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations: 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, and Typical and Atypical Carcinoid of the Lung.
Open-air burn pits are large areas of land used as a method of waste disposal on American bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Djibouti (i.e., the Southwest Asia theater of operations) in the post-9/11 era. Huge amounts of toxic and other waste were incinerated in these burn pits, emitting plumes of toxic smoke containing particulate matter and other dangerous toxins. In 2015, VA estimated that approximately 3.5 million veterans have been exposed to burn pits. The US Military regularly incinerated the following items in these burn pits after dousing them with hundreds of gallons of jet fuel: human waste, medical waste, plastics, paint, rubber, wood, aluminum cans, rotten food, petroleum, lubricants, toxic chemicals, Styrofoam, ammunition, and unexploded ordnance.
Our service members were then required to train, live, eat, and sleep in areas where they would continually breath the toxic smoke that was let off from the burn pits. In essence, this is the Agent Orange of the current generation of service members. As of now, the VA has not specified an exact timeline for when these nine respiratory cancers will be added to its presumptive list. However, if the VA follows the model for adding conditions to the presumptive list due to Agent Orange exposure, any veteran who has been previously denied for these added conditions will have their claims awarded as of the date of their original filing.
The Nevada County Veterans Services Office (NCVSO) is here to assist any veteran who has been diagnosed with one of these nine new rare respiratory cancers or any other condition that they believe is due to their exposure to burn pits file their claim for compensation to the VA. Additionally, once these conditions are added to the list, all surviving spouses whose significant other passed from one these conditions will be entitled to benefits as well. Your NCVSO is here to assist any veteran or surviving spouse submit their claim to the VA for the benefits that they are entitled to.
David West is the Nevada County Veterans Service Officer. Reach him at (530) 265-1446 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Nevada County Veteran’s Services Office, located at 988 McCourtney Rd, Grass Valley, CA, is open from 9 am to noon and 1 to 4 pm, Monday through Friday.