Burn PitsTake Action

Let your voice be heard! Contact your elected officials through DAV’s Commander Action Network (CAN) and urge them to support vitally important burn pits legislation. You can take action today on all of DAV’s campaigns here.


What are burn pits?

Much like Agent Orange in Vietnam, burn pit exposure has become synonymous with combat in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries to which American troops deployed following 9/11. Since then, millions of veterans and service members have potentially been exposed to areas of open-air, uncontrolled combustion of trash and other waste. The ubiquitous practice caused toxic substances to fill the air where American troops have served, sparking a host of long-term health consequences.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, chemicals, human waste, paint, fuel, metal, plastics, rubber, and other materials can create more hazards when burned in open air pits than other controlled burns. Burn pit exposure will have different impacts for each individual exposed since the chemicals and toxins released were not consistent from location to location.


Burn pit registry

Negative health impacts of breathing in burn pit smoke, including carcinogens, will continue to wreak havoc on veterans for years to come. Some long-term veteran health consequences include reduced central nervous system function, limited liver and kidney function, cancers of the stomach, respiratory system and skin, cardiovascular damage, chronic bronchitis, migraine headaches, and other severe conditions.

DAV was the first organization to raise the issue of burn pits through the media. In 2007, DAV initiated a pilot for a Burn Pit Registry, which the VA adopted in 2014. Any veteran or service member deployed to Southwest Asia, at any time, on or after August 2, 1990, OR Afghanistan and Djibouti on or after September 11, 2001, are eligible to register.

The registry is voluntary, but the central database can help researchers study the health impacts of burn pits, leading to advances in the science surrounding toxic exposure.

Given the sheer scope and numbers of potentially exposed veterans, DAV has consistently brought the crucial issue of burn pits exposure to federal lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Unlike Agent Orange exposure, VA has yet to determine presumptive diseases related to burn pits or even provide health care eligibility for burn pit exposure. As an organization, we believe veterans from all eras and conflicts who served where burn pits were a common practice must be included in any legislation.

Currently, for veterans to receive VA disability compensation for a condition they believe stems from burn pit exposure, they must prove that a specific ailment was caused by specific exposure—an often challenging process that DAV is working to make simpler for exposed veterans.


DAV-backed burn pit legislation

DAV is proud to support several legislative efforts to bring relief to potentially millions of veterans who served near burn pits  and suffer from conditions they cause.

The Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition Act of 2021 would lower the burden of proof on the veteran and require VA to examine veterans to determine if their exposure is linked to a particular disease. It would also recognize that veterans who served near burn pits were indeed exposed to airborne toxins.

The Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act of 2021 is sweeping legislation that would provide generations of veterans suffering from several sources of toxic exposures—not just burn pits— with benefits and VA healthcare. The bill would rightly recognize the federal government’s role and responsibility to provide health care and disability compensation to veterans suffering the impacts of their toxic exposure. Additionally, the bill would establish processes to establish new presumptive conditions for exposed veterans.

The Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2021 (H.R. 3967) is comprehensive legislation that would similarly provide healthcare for millions of veterans exposed to airborne hazards and burn puts. However, it would also establish presumption of service connection for 23 ailments, including respiratory diseases and cancers, related to burn pits. The bill would also create a presumption of exposure to radiation.


Veteran burn pit resources

In addition to the VA Burn Pit Registry, veterans can contact a DAV benefits expert or transition service officer if they have concerns regarding potential burn pit exposure.