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VA Denied 78% of Burn Pit Exposure Claims

Last week, Laurine Carson, a VA agency official said that 78% of disability claims related to toxic exposure have been denied. Carson is the deputy executive director of policy and procedures for the VA and released the information that only 2,828 out of 12,582 veterans between 2007 and 2020, have been approved for claims related to burn pit exposure.

Lawmakers and advocates have been fighting for presumptive care benefits for veterans affected for years, saying that the agency does not have clear guidelines for who gets compensated.

Many people have called the impact of burn pits on veterans the “Agent Orange of the post-9/11 generation” according to Elaine Luria, chairwoman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs subpanel on disability assistance and memorial affairs.

“We are now seeing young veterans in their 20s or 30s suddenly debilitated by cancers they would not reasonably contract unless they were heavy smokers or deep into old age,” Luria said. “We may not have all the answers on burn pit exposure, if ever. What we do know is that it’s making people very sick. I can’t tell these people to sit down to wait another 10 years because quite frankly, some of them might not have another 10 years.”

There have been clear links between exposure and a myriad of negative health conditions but the VA has been slow to move its feet. There is a general consensus that part of the hesitation stems from the VA’s inability to handle such an influx of patients that would inevitably be a result of any system that makes it easier for those affected to get coverage. The VA would undoubtably suffer from the enormous costs associated with covering the new volume of patients.

Laurine Carson said that one of the main reasons veterans are rejected for such claims has to do with the time between when the claim is made, and the time that they served. “They come with a respiratory condition today, but they served 10 years ago,” Carson said. “Some of the challenges are finding the link between that in-service event and their current condition because there are all types of intervening issues or exposures that may have happened as well.”

The VA continues to site evidence from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that supports the notion of insufficient evidence linking respiratory issues and burn pit exposure. The VA claims that more studies need to be conducted, another source of heartache for advocates as there has been no clear guidance from the VA indicating how much further research is needed before they can create a concrete policy on burn pit care and compensation. 

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