Congratulations to Jon Stewart who spearheaded a long and hard fought battle to win medical and disability benefits for veterans who breathed smoke from burn pits during their service in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Although not widely known, virtually all of our service people and contractors stationed in the Middle East were exposed on their bases to the daily burning of their trash, plastic, medical waste, and toxic chemicals in open burn pits. Everyone breathed that polluted air on the army bases and it was not good.

What you need to know about the PACT Act and where it takes us from here:

  1. Many military and contract workers developed cancer, respiratory illness or lost their lives. Until now there has been limited recognition of this tragedy. Now with the passage of the PACT Act under S. 437 Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act the surviving veterans will get proper treatment and disability for cancer and respiratory issues through the Veterans Department.  Some conditions are presumptive and other conditions require a diagnosis from a doctor relating the condition. Also the VA can have you examined by their doctor. Certain conditions carry a presumption that they came from the burns pits so benefits can be awarded without a causal connection statement from a medical doctor.
  2. These cancers are now presumptive:Burn Pit
    • Brain cancer
    • Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
    • Glioblastoma
    • Head cancer of any type
    • Kidney cancer
    • Lymphatic cancer of any type
    • Lymphoma of any type
    • Melanoma
    • Neck cancer
    • Pancreatic cancer
    • Reproductive cancer of any type
    • Respiratory (breathing-related) cancer of any type

    These illnesses are now presumptive:

    • Asthma that was diagnosed after service
    • Chronic bronchitis
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
    • Chronic rhinitis
    • Chronic sinusitis
    • Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
    • Emphysema
    • Granulomatous disease
    • Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
    • Pleuritis
    • Pulmonary fibrosis
    • Sarcoidosis
  3. Veterans can apply for coverage under the PACT (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins) Act.  This link takes you to the application form.  To quality the veteran must show employment during the time periods at these locations:
    • Iraq between August 2, 1990, and February 28, 1991, as well as from March 19, 2003, until burn pits are no longer used in this location;
    • Southwest Asia (including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar) from August 2, 1990, until burn pits are no longer used in these locations; and
    • Afghanistan, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, and Djibouti from September 11, 2001, until burn pits are no longer used in these locations.

    This is a much needed recognition for many people who suffer with these conditions. For the families who had their service member return home only to suffer a long unexpected painful death from cancer or respiratory disease, the loss has been devastating. Family members may be entitled to survivor benefits and a modest funeral reimbursement. Read more at the VA site for the amounts.

Many who served have lost their lives as this burn pit coverage goes back to the armed forces who served after 9-11-2001. President Biden’s own son served there, developed brain cancer and died. That is now a presumptive condition meaning no medical proof of causation is required but rather just proof he died of brain cancer after working there. He was just one of many. Until now there was no recognition that these warriors paid the ultimate price…their lives.  I am deeply touched that on August 3, our senate acknowledged that burn pits caused these health issues. People just want fairness….if you lost a family member who worked and slept near the burn pits you want acknowledgment that his/her service and death was in service of our country.  Consider that those brave warriors who returned home, became ill from cancer or respiratory disease and never received VA treatment nor any acknowledgment that their condition was related. August 3rd, we made things right. We righted a wrong. Yes everyone who served and suffered deserves this, and survivor benefits extend to the dependent partner, spouse, children, child, or parent so you can complete an application form to see if you qualify.

WHERE WE GO NEXT:  This legislation opens the door but there is more to do. Our firm represents many contract workers from South America, Africa and Bosnia. The employers were Dyncorp acquired by Amentum, KBR, PAE acquired by Amentum, and others. Winning a claim for contract workers from these countries who were affected by these burn pits has never been done. I wrote at length about burn pits in my blog on March 20, 2019. Attorney Gary Pitts won recognition that a female American contract worker needed medical treatment for burn pit exposure in the Landry case.  The Court doors have been largely closed except for that victory which of course the insurance company appealed.

I remember speaking with an African who actually worked at a burn pit when I was in Uganda in 2019. He and his coworkers threw debris into the burn pile. He said he was 1 of 10 workers who operated the burn pit. Six had died and he was one of 4 who still survived. Until now there was no hope of making a claim. With the PACT Act legislation it is my hope the contractors will start to have the door opened so they can win benefits. Time will tell but we took a big step forward today. Litigation attorneys handling DBA death claims or medical claims for these related conditions will have to choose their battles carefully to successfully litigate these claims. Trust me, it will not be easy but common sense says that if your contract workers sleeping in nearby tents came down with the same conditions as the veterans then your contractor’s illness is most probably related as well. You have two years after the dependent survivor became aware of the causation of the death to file a claim on a LS-262 form. Please email me at Joann@joannhoffman.com or see our webpage for more information because Helping the Injured is our passion.

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