Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hooray for the VA "Burn Pit Exposure" Registry!

As one of the hundreds of thousands of people who was continuously exposed to an open "burn pit" while deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan, I was very pleased to read that the Department of Veterans Affairs, aka the VA, has been ordered to establish a "Burn Pit Registry".

President Obama signed legislation Thursday requiring the Veterans Affairs Department to establish a registry for troops and veterans who lived and worked near open-air burn pits used to dispose waste in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas.
In addition to including new requirements for providing a casket or urn for veterans with no known next of kin and establishing care for a military cemetery in the Philippines, the Dignified Burial and Other Veterans Benefits Improvement Act, S. 3202, aims to pinpoint the number of veterans who may have been exposed to burn-pit smoke so VA can track their medical histories and keep them apprised of new treatments for associated conditions.
Troops deployed in support of contingency operations and stationed at a location where an open burn pit was used will be eligible to register.
Veterans advocacy groups and families of service members who have become ill since their deployments hailed passage of the law as a “victory.”
“It validates the truth behind every death, every illness associated with exposure,” said Rosie Lopez-Torres, co-founder of Burn Pits 360 and wife of former Army Capt. LeRoy Torres, who developed a rare lung disorder known as constrictive bronchiolitis after serving in Iraq.
VA said Thursday it will announce directions for signing up when the registry becomes available. (The Army Times)

Although the Department of Defense (DoD) and the VA first took official notice of the respiratory effects caused by long-term exposure to these burn pits in 2006 or 2007, and ordered the open pits to be replaced by low emission incinerators, very few of the Forward Operating Bases (FOB) fully transitioned to clean burning alternatives. 
In my case, while stationed at FOB Kalsu in beautiful Diwaniah Province, my Containerized Housing Unit (CHU) was filled most nights with noticeable amounts of foul-smelling smoke. Since my CHU was located only 500 meters downwind from the burn pit, I had to "embrace the suck", so to speak. After a couple of months of almost nightly exposure, I developed a deep persistent cough, which remains to this day, although at varying degrees of effect.  The docs at the FOB aid station provided me with an inhaler, and more importantly, documented this stuff in my medical records. When I redeployed, a similar notation was added to my medical file. 
Without going into detail, although I continue to receive treatment the effects remain. And whenever I get exposed to someone with a cold, I develop a heavy duty cough which sometimes lasts up to 3 weeks. That's the condition I find myself in right now, and it's pretty crappy.
You can bet that when the VA opens up registration for the Burn Pit Exposure group, I'll be right there.

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