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VA Continues to Deny Burn Pit Claims Despite Strong Support

Monday, March 22, 2021

Support for burn pit veterans has been growing in recent years, with celebrity advocates like Jon Stewart and key representatives showing fervent support. Many advocates were hopeful that the election of a passionate President that understands the impact of burn pits on veterans would have jolted efforts into motion. At least for now, however, it appears that the VA will continue to deny the vast majority of burn pit-related claims. 

Millions of veterans have been exposed to toxic hazards since 2001 and the fight for support for these veterans has been a long one. President Biden has cited burn pit-exposure as the root cause for his son Beau’s illness that ultimately took his life. With more combined attention than ever, change for these veterans is seemingly imminent. Yet, real change is still slow going. 

Recently in Congress, retired Staff Sgt. William Thompson, testified about his exposure to burn pits during his deployment. He has had multiple double-lung transplants and many other health concerns because of exposure to burn pits. According to his doctor, Anthony Szema, Thompson’s original lungs contained burned particles from burn pits. 

As of March 10th, 2021, over 230,000 veterans have added themselves to the VA Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. This list is simply a registry, however. It does not guarantee any medical support for veterans. With most claims still being denied, Biden voiced his passion for the cause during a 2020 Veterans Day speech saying that “We have to make sure that no veteran is locked out of treatment for conditions related to toxic exposure.” 

All of this has lawmakers reminded of the fiasco that was Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and years after. Even so, veterans have been forced to wait up to decades for care and benefits as the VA continues to deny thousands of claims, citing “insufficient evidence” to prove veterans’ respiratory illnesses are caused by burn pits. 

There is still hope that with all of this support, change will come soon for the veterans affected. During a 2019 town hall, Biden voiced his concern for the way the issue has been handled by the VA. “It’s not because my son died. (He) went from very, very healthy but he lived in the bloom of those burn pits for a long time. He’s passed, it doesn’t affect him,” Biden continued. “But the point is that every single veteran shouldn’t have to prove and wait until science demonstrates beyond a doubt … We just have to change the way we think a little bit.”

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