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Some military base contractors suffer effects of burn pits

| Apr 21, 2020 | Defense Base Act |

A federal judge awarded compensation to a former contractor who worked on a U.S. military base in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. A life-long nonsmoker who was healthy before her Iraq assignment, the woman returned with severe lung problems.

Her health issues are associated with burn pits on her base and many others around the same time, according to lawsuits, federal compensation decisions, experts and activists. The woman’s compensation was awarded under the Defense Base Act (DBA).

DBA and workers compensation

The Defense Base Act is similar in many ways to workers’ compensation insurance that most employers in American must carry for their employees.

But while the states regulate workers’ comp, the federal government oversees the DBA, which applies to private firms with employees working on any land that the U.S. military uses outside the United States. It requires the companies to carry insurance for those workers.

And much like state workers’ comp regulations, because the federal government requires DBA insurance, it also closely regulates what kind of health problems and treatments the insurance must cover for which kinds of workers and so on.

Many contractors and military veterans denied for burn pit harm

According to Stars and Stripes, bases in Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations used many dozens of huge, open-air pits to burn trash including “unexploded ordnance, metal cans, plastics, Styrofoam, rubber, paint, lubricants, even body parts and animal carcasses ignited with jet fuel.”

The health effects from 24/7 exposure to these pits are said to often bear a striking resemblance to many of the effects suffered by first responders who worked at the World Trade Center site in 2001. Comedian Jon Stewart has taken up the cause of compensation for sufferers from burn pit exposure, an extension of his earlier activism on behalf of 9/11 first responders.

Former vice president Joe Biden has publicly speculated that the death of his son Beau from brain cancer may have been the result of burn pit exposure during his son’s deployment in Iraq. But local news outlets covered the recent award to a woman in Colorado Springs, Colorado, mentioned above because it is all-too rare.

While a direct cause of these lung ailments is often hard to prove so many years after the fact, activists are working toward federal legislation that, if enacted, would make coverage for certain conditions automatic for those exposed to burn pits during these conflicts.