DAV has been instrumental in bringing awareness before Congress and the American public to the crucial issue of burn pits and other toxic exposures. In fact, we were also the first major veterans organization to raise concerns about such exposure in the media and initiated the pilot for the Burn Pit Registry, which the Department of Veterans Affairs adopted in 2014.
It’s taken time—far too much time, in many cases—but the issue continues to gain momentum. We’re seeing it gain traction both through legislation and in the expansion of benefits.
In a first for the VA, veterans living with the harmful health consequences of burn pit exposure will receive presumptive disability status for three respiratory illnesses. Rhinitis and sinusitis—inflammation of the nose and nasal sinuses, respectively—along with asthma will now be covered under a new VA policy, provided those symptoms developed within 10 years of a veteran’s service in a qualifying country where burn pits were in use.
The rule covers veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria and Djibouti following Sept. 19, 2001. But it also includes veterans who served in several countries in Southwest Asia, stretching back from August 1990 to present day.
This policy change, which helps create a fast track to health care and disability compensation for veterans suffering these chronic conditions, reflects two things: A growing body of scientific evidence links the toxic fumes to the development of these diseases, and these veterans have endured years of denials as their illnesses worsened.
While we’re glad to see this policy change, it’s important to note that these three ailments are an initial list of qualifying illnesses. Other diseases—including cancers—can develop years after being exposed as well.
The VA announced it will be reaching out to those veterans and survivors who are affected by this policy change to inform them about their eligibility and provide information on how to apply. DAV benefits experts are able to assist those whose claims have previously been denied, and we encourage those who believe they may be eligible for these newly established presumptive conditions to contact our representatives for help.
To find a DAV benefits expert near you, visit benefitsquestions.org.