http://www.statesman.com/blogs/content/ ... ocal_point
Burn-pit registry a reality despite VA resistance
By Jeremy Schwartz | Friday, January 25, 2013, 12:11 PM
Six months after opposing it, the Department of Veterans Affairs is putting together a registry of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been exposed to burn pits — the open-air burning of a wide range of toxic materials.
A law signed earlier this month requires the VA to set up the registries, which the department now says will “enhance VA’s ability to monitor the effects of exposure and keep (v)eterans informed about studies and treatments.”
Burn pits scattered around Iraq and Afghanistan were used to destroy items ranging from chemicals, paint and medical waste to munitions, unexploded ordnance, plastics and Styrofoam.
Veteran advocates have long pushed for such a registry.
“Any veteran who lived near an open-air burn pit is familiar with the short-term health effects,” Tom Tarantino of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told the Army Times in June . “However the lasting effects of toxic exposure from burn pits are unknown, without data tracking the health and well-being of deployed service members.”
Yet the burn-pit registry effort has faced stiff resistance from both the Department of Defense, which argued that there is no proof burn pits cause long-term health problems, and the VA, which told Congress the registries were unnecessary. (Congress ultimately rejected both arguments.)
VA officials claimed they were already tracking the effects of exposure, through ongoing health surveillance of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and that a “comprehensive, long term study” would be more effective than the registry. However, it’s not clear how a study would accomplish one of the main goals of the registry: keeping affected veterans informed of new research or treatments for illnesses associated with the pits.
So why the resistance to something that by all appearances can only help veterans suffering from lung diseases and other unexplained maladies?
Kelley Vlahos gave us a glimpse of what may really be going on in a recent column in the American Conservative : “Of course the subtext to many of these conversations is that a registry sets up a host of potential liabilities for the government, a pipeline for new veterans benefits, and the risk of fraud. That could be expensive.”
This is not the first generation to face such resistance: Vietnam veterans long complained about the effects of Agent Orange exposure and were only recently granted VA disability benefits based on the diseases they contracted because of it. Likewise, Gulf War veterans have fought for decades for recognition of and reimbursement for the multiple maladies that make up Gulf War illness .
At least today the government is acting more quickly, even if the military establishment initially tried to obstruct it.
For more information on the VA burn pit registry, see the department’s website .
A skeleton walks into a bar. Orders a beer, and a mop. -anon