Controversial Method Still Used in CENTCOM “When It’s a Military Operational Necessity”

Controversial Method Still Used in CENTCOM

( – From 1990 through 2021, the US military estimates it exposed millions of military members to toxic burn pits during the first Gulf War and those that followed in Afghanistan and Iraq. On Wednesday, March 16, experts testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the long-term negative health impacts on soldiers caused by burn pits. It’s been an issue that the government has largely ignored regarding veteran care.

Burn pits are so toxic that they cause various cancers, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and other serious health issues. Experts explained in detail to senators what a burn pit is composed of and how it’s ignited. Perhaps most revealing is that despite knowing the dangers, the military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) still uses the controversial practice when operationally necessary.

What Is a Burn Pit?

Experts testified to the Senate committee that a burn pit uses jet fuel to incinerate medical waste, chemicals, human waste, and other trash. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Readiness Policy and Oversight Dr. Terry Rauch told senators that, in the past, the military used burn pits in what’s called an immature military theater. The military defines an immature base as new or temporary, that doesn’t have proper incinerators installed to eliminate human waste.

Over time, human waste can cause multiple diseases and cripple a military’s fighting force. Rauch said that each service member in the field generates 10 or more pounds of waste in a day. He asked Senators to imagine how much that is when you’re dealing with 300 to 3,000 soldiers. The acting deputy assistant said the waste must be managed, and burn pits are the most viable solution.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) asked about the US military’s current use of burn pits. Rauch said that CENTCOM uses burn pits when operationally necessary.

Capt. Brian Feldman, commander of the US Navy and Marine Corps’ public health center, said the Navy is searching for an alternative solution. Feldman told Senators that the Navy is researching and developing wrist bands that make it possible to assess exposure levels to burn pit toxins.

Senate Considering Legislation for Veteran Care

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 3.5 million vets post 9/11 were exposed to burn pits. Hundreds of thousands of them are already on a VA registry database. Sen. Gillibrand released a legislative proposal coinciding with the hearing, which would provide automatic and immediate VA disability benefits to veterans linked to burn pits. The proposal would not require a veteran to undergo medical evaluations to prove burn pits caused them physical harm.

Sen. Tillis previously proposed an alternative bill that would require the VA to screen veterans for burn pit toxin exposure and establish an outreach program to vets about benefits and entitlements under the law, if passed by Congress. In February, the measure passed unanimously in the Senate and awaits a vote in the House.

Stay tuned. Congress could pass legislation in 2022 to address burn pit toxins and provide VA care for infected individuals.

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