Survey: Many vets blame burn pits for medical problems

KUSA – An exhaustive survey of more than 2,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suggests many veterans believe their medical problems have direct ties to the long-standing military practice of burning waste in open-air burn pits.

More than half of the veterans who responded to the 2014 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association member survey said they feel they have symptoms associated with exposure to open-air burn pits. In addition, the survey found more than three-quarters of respondents had some sort of exposure to burn pits during their deployments.

For years, the military burned waste in open-air burn pits next to numerous bases in Iraq and Afghanistan frequently with the help of private contractors. The practice prompted a yet to be settled class-action lawsuit against KBR and Halliburton which alleges the smoke from the pits caused everything from lung problems to fatal tumors.

Recently, 9News profiled the death of Littleton Marine Sean Terry. Terry, 33, passed away earlier this year after a half-year battle with cancer of the esophagus. The rarity of the cancer was made even more rare by Terry's age. Less than two percent of all people who will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer will be under the age of 35. Terry's family and friends believe his exposure to burn pits while on deployment into Iraq contributed to his death.

It's alleged everything from amputated body parts and needles to plastics and Styrofoam was burned in the pits for years. The Department of Defense along with the Department of Veterans Affairs has routinely stated they believe there have been no long-term health problems directly linked to burn pits.

Even still, the VA routinely screens incoming veterans on the issue of whether or not they served near burn pits.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) told 9Wants to Know investigator Chris Vanderveen she doesn't buy the theory put forth by the DOD as well as the VA, and has asked Congress to approve funding for three "Centers of Excellence" to gather more data from veterans across the country.

In addition, doctors at Denver's nationally-recognized National Jewish Health continue to study the issue. One doctor has gone as far as to study lung biopsies of numerous veterans to get a better idea of what might be causing decreased lung function. For more on the IAVA survey head to: http://iava.org/survey/files/IAVA_Member_Survey_2014.pdf .

If you have any information related to burn pits you would like to share, please feel free to email Chris at chris.vanderveen@9news.com

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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