Lejeune, Burn Pits Highlighted in Recent VFW Testimony to Congress

In recent testimony before the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs and Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing by the head of the VFW, several topics were highlighted.

Among the topics discussed were Camp Lejeune toxic water contamination, Iraq burn pits and Agent Orange.

There are approximately 1.9 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and its Auxiliaries. They advocate on behalf of our nation’s veterans, million military service members, and all of their families.

The VFW exists to serve veterans, service members and their families. Their goal is to give them a voice in Washington–in the White House, on Capitol Hill, inside the VA, the Pentagon, and within every other federal, state and local entity that has a program created to serve or support them.

Regarding Camp Lejeune toxic water contamination:

“VA has the responsibility to research whether the descendants of veterans who have been exposed to other toxic substances, such as the approximately 650,000 veterans and family members who were exposed to contaminated water in Camp Lejeune, are at risk of developing adverse health conditions. The VFW urges VA to conduct and furnish extensive research on the adverse health outcomes associated with toxic exposures and their effects on the descendants. VA needs to be more forward thinking about what sort of exposures need research, rather than waiting for problems to reach critical mass. Current era veterans should not have to wait decades for care, like with Agent Orange. The VFW thanks Senators Moran and Blumenthal, and Congressmen Benishek and Honda for introducing the Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2015, which would establish an advisory board to assist VA in determining the association between adverse health conditions and exposure to toxic substances. It would also establish a national center for research to study the health effects of toxic exposures on the descendants of individuals who were exposed to such substances during their military service. The VFW strongly urges passage of this important legislation.”

Note that the VFW used the word “toxic” 6 times in one paragraph.  That word is only used 16 times throughout the entire testimony.  We hope Congress got the message.

In additional, but related testimony, the VFW testified for the necessity of further studies and evaluations regarding chemical exposure from burn pits.

Regarding Burn Pits:

“The use of open air burn pits in combat zones has caused invisible, but grave health complications for many service members, past and present. Particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds and dioxins – the destructive compound found in Agent Orange – and other harmful materials are all present in burn pits, creating clouds of hazardous chemical compounds that are unavoidable to those in close proximity.

On December 8, 2014, VA and DOD held a Joint Airborne Hazards Symposium to report on the status of recent and current airborne exposure studies. During this event, the VFW learned that epidemiologic studies sponsored by VA and DOD have been unable find a direct cause and effect relationship between exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and abnormal pulmonary conditions prevalent among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The VFW is concerned about the impact of sampling error on the results of these studies. Specifically, several VA and DOD-sponsored epidemiologic studies compare the difference in pulmonary health conditions between veterans who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and those who did not deploy. However, such studies do not control for the realities of deploying to combat zones. Often, the deployed veteran’s sample included veterans who were deployed, but whose duties did not require them to work in or near burn pits. Studies comparing the two cohorts must focus on veterans whose duties in or near burn pits exposed them to harmful airborne hazards.

 

Current VA and DOD-sponsored epidemiologic studies also lack specific location and event data to properly control for veterans who were directly exposed to hazardous chemical compounds created by burn pits. The Defense Health Board’s study, “Pre- and Post-Deployment Evaluation of Military Personnel for Pulmonary Disease Related to Environmental Dust Exposure,” found that “Epidemiologic studies are compromised by the lack of access to classified individual deployment location data.” In order to properly evaluate the health effects of burn pit exposure, VA and DOD must conduct event and location specific research.”

Finally, Agent Orange exposure continues to be an issue:

“The VFW also believes that the end date recognized by VA and DOD and established by Congress does not accurately account for the half-life of Agent Orange in the soil of sprayed areas. DOD asserts that use of Agent Orange near the Korean DMZ ceased in 1969. When Congress and VA set presumption dates for Korean DMZ veterans, they expanded the end date beyond 1969 to account for residual exposure. Although the half-life of 2,3,7,8 TCDD – a human carcinogen found in Agent Orange – may be between one year and three years on soil surfaces, studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture have determined that TCDD is resistant to biodegradation and can remain in soil interiors for up to 12 years. A similar study conducted by the Canadian company Hatfield Consultants Ltd., in collaboration with the government of Vietnam, found a “hot spot” of TCDD contamination at a former U.S. Special Forces base in the Aluoi Valley in 1997. The soil found in this abandoned base continued to exceed Canadian health standards more than 30 years after initial spraying of Agent Orange in the area.

 

Last year, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) relied on a similar study to establish a medical nexus between a veteran’s type II diabetes and his exposure to herbicides during his service along the Korean DMZ between February 1976 and March 1977. BVA granted the veteran service-connection because his duties along the Korean DMZ required him to excavate soil from the barrier fence and guard posts. Although BVA decisions do not set a precedent, VA must properly consider studies on the half-life of TCDD when making service-connection decisions at the regional office level. VA must ensure its regional offices are aware that the half-life of TCDD in soil interiors could result in veterans who served along the Korean DMZ after August 31, 1971, being exposed to toxic herbicides if their duties required them to excavate soil that was previously sprayed with Agent Orange.

 

Fort McClellan: From 1943 to its closure in 1999, Fort McClellan, Alabama, was home to thousands of soldiers in the Women’s Army Corps, the Army’sMilitary Police Corps, and the Army’sChemical Corps. It was forced to close in 1999 due to investigations by the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the EPA, which discovered evidence of Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) contamination in Fort McClellan’s neighboring town, Anniston.

 

The VFW has heard from several veterans, who suffer from deteriorating health conditions that are consistent with exposure to PCBs, that they are unable to obtain the care and benefits they need because their service at Fort McClellan is not considered presumptive exposure to toxic substances. Despite continued pressure by Congress and veterans service organizations, the Army and VA have failed to establish a health registry to conduct comprehensive studies on the effects of toxic exposure at Fort McClellan, which would be necessary in order to justify the extension of any presumptive service connection or health care benefits to veterans who may be suffering from such exposure.”

 

Here’s a downloadable PDF of the entire testimony:

Civilian Exposure Download PDF

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A 20-year veteran of media, marketing, non-profits and entrepreneurship, Gavin P. Smith leads Civilian Exposure, a non-profit assisting civilians and veterans exposed to U.S. military contamination; the Keta Foundation, a collaborative foundation dedicated to mitigating modern slavery through economic improvement projects in Africa; and Gavin Consulting, a network of virtual experts serving global clients; He is also a former member of the CDC/ATSDR Camp Lejeune Community Assistance Panel. Mr. Smith holds a Master of Global Management with distinction (Beta Gamma Sigma) from Thunderbird School of Global Management, an MBA from The College of William & Mary Mason School of Business and a BA in History from Wake Forest University.

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