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Burn Pits, Benzene and Leukemia

Published on July 12th, 2021 by Andrew Hughes

Our all-volunteer armed forces understand the clear and present dangers involved in serving their country. However, since Operation Desert Storm, more than 3.5 million service members have unknowingly been exposed to leukemia-causing benzene because they were stationed around burn pits. 

Burn pits were seen as a way to rid bases of human waste and other trash as normal sanitation services are not available in the mountains of Afghanistan and deserts of the Middle East. Common accelerants for the pits were JP-8, a jet fuel, as well as gasoline and diesel. The burning of plastics, metals and fuels generates a toxic soup of carcinogens, including dioxin, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, vinyl chloride and benzene. 

Benzene is known to cause acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Benzene is also linked to other blood and bone cancers including multiple myeloma (MM) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL).

COST of War Act Seeks to Help Veterans

One problem our veterans have faced after being diagnosed with a rare blood or bone cancer is proving that the cancer is related to their service. Treatment and benefits can be hard to obtain, especially when the veteran might not even be aware that he or she was exposed to chemicals. Jon Tester, Senator from Montana and Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee decided to act. He helped create the Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops of War Act or COST of War Act. 

The bill will ensure that vets with exposure get immediate care from the Veterans Administration (VA). It will require the government to concede that any of the eleven covered diseases were a result of toxic exposures related to service time.  This will reduce the burden on vets to prove toxic exposures. It will create a framework to study other diseases and add them to the covered list of diseases if the science calls for it. And to help veterans who may not even be aware that their cancers are related to their service, VA medical and benefits personnel will receive training on toxic exposures. 

Veterans Need Our Support

The veterans who were injured serving their country should be taken care of regardless of how they were injured or when the injury manifests. Leukemia, like many cancers, can manifest years after exposure to toxic chemicals. The Wounded Warrior Project, and American Legion and VFW halls across the country have come out in support of this bill. At Hughes Law Offices, we do not handle service time exposure cases directly, but we do partner with other firms who help veterans diagnosed with certain cancers. While the VA should be able to help wounded vets, if you have been denied benefits or a claim you can call 1-800-BENZENE today and speak with a lawyer.

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