How burn pits are deteriorating the health of US veterans
Beau Biden's cancer diagnosis may be connected to burn pits.
Last week, US President Joe Biden spoke of an issue that has been afflicting US veterans for quite some time, and one that affects Biden personally, burn pits.
US troops stationed overseas have long held the practice of using burn pits to get rid of their toxic waste. The items that went into the burn pits included batteries, medical waste, plastics, ammunition, rubber, chemicals, and even amputated body parts.
Nearly 30,000 troops filled out a survey on exposure to burn pits between April to December 2014, and data from the survey highlighted the health conditions experienced by US troops.
The most commonly diagnosed health problems were insomnia and neurological problems. Other problems included allergies, high blood pressure, lung diseases like emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma.
The repercussions can cause debilitating diseases and have led to thousands of veterans' deaths.
One of those casualties, according to Biden, might be his son Beau who died of brain cancer after being deployed to Iraq in 2008. In his recent State of the Union address, Biden discussed burn pits, claiming that exposure could have resulted in the death of Beau, who was a soldier in Iraq for a year before dying of brain cancer.
Biden described that “when they came home, many of the world’s fittest and best-trained warriors in the world were never the same. Headaches. Numbness. Dizziness. Cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin. I know."
While meeting with veterans, Biden expressed dissatisfaction with the healthcare and benefits for affected veterans.
According to the Department of Defense, around 3.5 million service members may have been exposed to burn pits throughout America's interferences in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Flashbacks from Vietnam
The experiences of former US troops mirror those of Americans who served in Vietnam and were exposed to the deadly herbicide Agent Orange and began reporting ailments, including different forms of cancer.
It took Congress more than two decades to adopt the Agent Orange Act in 1991, and another 30 years to approve the Veterans Agent Orange Exposure Equity Act, which changed the burden from veterans needing to prove exposure to a presumption of exposure to the chemical.
Aleks Morosky, deputy director with the Wounded Warrior project, says, "What we know is that many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were exposed are now getting sick and dying.”
During the 1990-91 Gulf War, returning troops reported symptoms such as weariness, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, sleeplessness, disorientation, and respiratory issues, which became known as Gulf war syndrome. Chemical warfare poisons, notably nerve gas, or pyridostigmine bromide, which was provided as a prophylactic precaution against exposure to chemical weapons, were among the suspected reasons, as per US claims.
According to Morosky, "We feel we need an Agent Orange Act for the 21st century."
Adding insult to injury, the Veterans Affairs Department has reportedly denied 75% of claims relating to burn pits, and in most cases, it does not consider exposure to be a valid condition related to service.
A Pentagon report from 2015 describes the risk from burn pits as "indefensible".
Andrew Myatt, who has served in the Middle East on multiple occasions, says his claim was denied by the VA. Myatt was diagnosed with an aggressive type of adult Leukemia.
“I served with honor so it was frustrating to be told, in effect, you’re old and broken and we don’t need you,” he said. “You have to prove you were exposed and that exposure caused what you have."
While the US President seems so concerned for US veterans, he seems unconcerned with the toxic wastes his troops left behind in foreign countries.
Babies born deformed: The US' toxic burn pits in Iraq
A Sputnik report went beyond the burn pits' effects on US troops and spoke with an Iraqi-American researcher who shared firsthand accounts of the health problems faced by Iraqis exposed to the pits.
One Iraqi, who chose to identify herself as Warda to protect her privacy, was a mother to three healthy children, the oldest of whom was 10. Warda was able to return to her town in Iraq after it was liberated by Iraqi security forces from ISIS in 2016.
However, the environment around her town of Karma had become toxic after it had been a key battleground during the US invasion of Iraq, and was a US Marine Corps stronghold. Warda's exposure to the toxins in the environment near her village turned her life into a nightmare following repeated miscarriages, and children born with birth defects.
Health problems and birth defects
One environmental toxicologist was among the first US researchers to show a link between the rise in birth defects among Iraqi women and how close they lived to US burn pits.
Kali Rubaii, an anthropologist from the University of California who began research on this issue in 2009 noted that farm animals in Iraq also face similar problems. One Iraqi herder who lived more than 2 km downwind from a US burn pit had 52 cows before the US army came into town. Today, he only has two left and is afraid of investing in more since so many have died or were born sickly, or even with birth defects.
Another problem is the disability care for parents whose children are born with birth defects because of the US' burning of toxic waste. This increases the burden for poor families going back to their homes to rebuild them, only for them and their children to encounter additional health problems, adding a burden on the public health infrastructure of Iraq, which was already ruined by the US invasion.