March 18th, 2009
09:45 AM ET
9 years ago

VA to look into effects of 'burn pits' on veterans

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Department of Veterans Affairs says it will study the effects of toxic emissions from burning trash at military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan on veterans, even after the Department of Defense has concluded no long-term effects exist.

Studies of the smoke from the burn pits suggests it contains dioxin and other toxins.

The extent of the VA's intention was discussed in a letter to concerned congressmen that was sent on Friday and obtained by CNN.

In the letter responding to the congressmen's inquiry on the subject, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said he shared "concerns that some veterans could have health problems from such exposures."

"Our previous experiences with returning Vietnam War and Gulf War veterans show that we must take these concerns very seriously," he added.

Filed under: Veterans
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Sue

    Gosh, "health problems" from being in a war? Ya think? What about the mental state of people who are brainwashed into seeing other human beings as their enemy. Into killing innocents? Into seeing their friends killed needlessly? I think the mental health toll is even greater than the physical, and we are not equipped to deal with all the returning, damaged soldiers. War has to stop!

    March 18, 2009 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  2. obama-mama

    Why is this just being looked into and our men and women have been there for years.

    March 18, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  3. Pee Wee

    Just when you'd thought you'd heard it all....this

    March 18, 2009 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  4. where will this lead?

    No solution coming to mind as an alternative, we will have another problem to solve, the good? knowing the harm that this is causing

    Where is the trash going to go? Bury it? Our own landfills show readable newspapers from before the 1950's that are readable and not broken down the least by the landfill. Burn it? The lungs and the atmosphere

    The poor Iraqi and Afgani people and our boys have been subjected to all kinds of trauma, add this to the list

    Here is a silly idea: the wars of the world need to go GREEN

    March 18, 2009 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  5. Jeremy


    "Damaged soldiers?" That is pretty harsh. How many tours have you served? I came back with Leukemia and someone in my unit has died already since returning with Leukemia. Nobody is brainwashed. Soldiers do what they do to survive. You shoot back at the people who shoot at you, not innocent people. Don't get sucked into the conspiracy theories.

    March 18, 2009 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  6. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Well if the soldiers are following the Army Field Manual, this should not be a problem. There are specific guidelines on how to discard waste while in the field. There will be a lot of post war epidemics. I'm glad the VA recognizes that and is on top of it.

    March 18, 2009 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  7. William Wirt

    This is a silly idea: the wars of the world need to end today and we need to defend our boarders first.

    March 18, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  8. Scott, Tucson

    Hell in my days, we did this in the States during exercises across the country.

    March 18, 2009 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  9. thomas

    No, there are no ill effects from the burn pits. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not a real disability. Defoliants like Napalm and Agent Orange presented no danger to our soldiers. No one the vicinity of the atomic test sites suffered any ill effects. Mental patients were never used for experiments with psychedelic drugs. The clean up of the World Trade center was not the cause of any of the respiratory problems of workers. I am your government. Do you believe me now?

    March 18, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  10. Grunt

    I'm not surprised that the first report showed no effects from burning trash. After all, these are the same people that found nothing wrong with the environment in the first Gulf War but later conceded that depleted uranium and other post detonation elements caused previously unexplained illnesses. At what point do they admit toxins may be causing long term effects? More than likely ten years from now....or perhaps never as it would cost them money. Once again the truth is buried in favour of saving some coin.

    March 18, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  11. patNY

    Why bother burning the trash? Do what the Afghans and Iraqis do, just throw it out the window and into the streets. The whole area is one big garbage pit.

    March 18, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  12. KC


    First I want to say thank you for your service and sacrifice. Second, I want to say how sorry I am to hear that you are suffering from Leukemia. I pray for a complete recovery. Third, please disregard the naysayers on this board. The majority of them do not have a clue as to what sacrifice means. Our nation has become very self-serving, greedy, malicious and narcissistic. We will have a terrible time overcoming this economic situation as a result.

    Godspeed to you Jeremy....may you be blessed above others.

    March 18, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  13. Veteran in Kansas

    Being somewhat knowledgeable in chemistry and the military service, burning does generate trace amounts of dioxin and other toxins. You also create amazing things every time you light your grill at home. You expose yourself everytime you pick up a piece of white paper. Paper is made white by bleaching it, during this process you generate dioxin.

    We have been burning trash in the military since before our nations founding. In a field environment you actually do generate trash and human waste if you can believe that, you can let it build up and see what you get or you can take steps to dispose of it. Since the local sanitation company does not tend to make weekly pickups, burning it is an appropreate measure. As to the VA and their concerns I would highly recommend they use their limit the use of their limited facilities to taking care of veterans and leave field sanitation and field hygiene to those that are trained to deal with these areas.

    March 18, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  14. Tom in Delaware

    Be sure to submit your claims to your insurance company since the VA no longer has to handle your case.

    You need to accept this sacrifce because the Leader wants to 'ease the tax burden on the people'.

    March 18, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  15. Female Vet Teresa

    It will take 15-20 years before the acknowledge there was a health problem and take charge of it. Look at agent orange in vietnam and the gulf war syndrome. These are hardworking dedicated people who have careers and jobs like anyone else. People like Sue need to pull their head of of their arse and stop the mentality that vets like/love war and are brainwashed. We are not–we are sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers who volunteered to be in the military. Some stay for one or two tours others till they retire. It is one career that I cherish–I was paid the same as any man for doing the same job and applied myself to advance in rank and stature based on my testing and job application. If you have never walked the walk you should keep your mouth shut...I didn't see you give the US Goverment a blank check with your name on it.

    March 18, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  16. Brad, California

    America never learns. Just like we were afraid to do in Viet Nam and every other conflict since...

    Grow up. War is war. If America had pulled out all the stops and gone in to Viet Nam, Iraq or anywhere else to win without worrying about world opinion and without coercing a coalition, conflict would have been over with a long time ago and we wouldn't be having a disagreement about the effects of trash burning.

    March 18, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  17. Mickie

    There are still a lot of places in the U.S. where you burn trash and the areas are unaccessible to trash/garbage pickup. I would be more worried about the effects these poor soldiers suffer with the "no out" revolving service in Iraq. Enough war – let's try to settle things peacefully. We tend to police the world in the same way we police our citizens on drugs – shoot first and ask questions later. Put them in jail over and over instead of trying to get them treatment. No wonder our Country is bankrupt.

    March 18, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  18. susie

    Before people sign up for the military they better hope they have health insurance.

    March 18, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  19. A F Brat

    What did they do– stand over the pits and inhale the fumes?
    This sounds like my neighbor who burned his lungs opening a bucket of chlorine tablets and with his face no more than a foot from the chlorine took a deep breath. But it was the "manufacturers fault" for not telling him it was dangerous?? For Pete sake, he would have never read any "directions" anyway, and most people would have known not to stick your face that close to the chlorine & breath it in.

    March 18, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  20. Felonious Monk

    If there ever was a sign that the government will not take care of "it's" own, it was 9/11. They sent those "rescue workers" in with no protection whatsoever! Then when respiratory problems appeared they tried to not cover them. They left them out in the cold! Then you have the attempt to have Vets use private insurance for their health coverage. They put their lives on the line for "us" and "we" are not going to take care of them when they return injured? What kind of America is this?
    Sue-"War has to stop!"
    What about a war against poverty?
    What about a war against hunger?
    What about a war against poor health and lack of medical services?
    What about a war against war?

    March 18, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  21. fearful for my country

    Well imagine that. I've been fighting the VA for years over the long term effects and damage thet the mercury they put in my hands did to my central nervous system but oh no, they can't be bothered. In this "modern " war, they bend over backwards to give anything they can to these guys. You burn some trash you're going to get compensation but handle mercury in the palm of your hands for 4 years and you get a big fat nothing but a lifetime of physical and mental distress. I'm a 46 yo female veteran who has been suffering since I served. I am no longer able to work or have any quality of life. I sometimes have to use a walker, I am sick constantly, I hurt every breathing moment of my life and I am pretty much confined to bed yet I don't "qualify" for damages caused by the mercury. Yeah, join the military, see the world, and live your life in hell afterwards. Thats the thanks we get.

    March 18, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |