The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced it will automatically presume service connection for Gulf War, Iraq War, and Afghanistan War veterans diagnosed with nine rare cancers. The announcement comes after the VA found evidence associating these cancers with burn pit smoke and fume exposure.
By adding these nine cancers to the VA presumptive list, eligible veterans can collect health care benefits and VA disability compensation without gathering evidence to prove that their time in service caused the cancer.
The new burn pit presumptive list is similar to presumptive disease lists developed for Agent Orange exposure and Camp Lejeune toxic water exposure. Burn pit exposure received its own presumptive disease list in August 2021, when the VA determined there was enough scientific evidence to associate three respiratory conditions with the inhalation of airborne particulate matter from burn pits: rhinitis, sinusitis, and asthma.
But many veterans have also started developing some rare respiratory cancers, prompting the VA to look into burn pit exposure as a possible cause. On November 11, 2021, President Biden issued an order requiring the VA to review the research and determine whether burn pit exposure is associated with the development of these rare cancers. Biden gave the VA 90 days to report the results.
On April 25th, the VA officials stated that they have “determined through a focused review of scientific and medical evidence there is biological plausibility between airborne hazards and carcinogenesis of the respiratory tract — and the unique circumstances of these rare cancers warrant a presumption of service connection.”
12 Diseases on VA Burn Pit Presumptive List
Across the 1990s, the U.S. military disposed of trash, medical waste, plastics, paint, and jet fuel using open-air burn pits. Servicemembers living and working near these burn pits unavoidably inhaled the toxic smoke and airborne particulate matter emitted from these burn pits.
VA states that veterans could have been exposed to the disease-causing airborne toxins via “particulate matter or large burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, a large sulfur fire at Mishraq State Sulfur Mine near Mosul, Iraq, hexavalent chromium at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in Basra, Iraq, or pollutants from a waste incinerator near the Naval Air Facility at Atsugi, Japan.”
Prior to the burn pit presumptive list, VA required veterans to supply evidence proving that their health condition was caused by their military service, a difficult and lengthy feat. Now, eligible veterans only need to prove (1) a diagnosis with the condition and (2) their dates and locations of service.
Rhinitis, sinusitis, and asthma are already on the VA burn pit presumptive list. The VA’s recent decision adds nine respiratory cancers to the list:
- Typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung
- Adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung
- Adenocarcinoma of the trachea
- Sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung
- Squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea
- Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx
- Salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea
- Salivary gland-type tumors of the lung
- Large cell carcinoma of the lung
VA Burn Pit Presumptive List Eligibility
Veterans diagnosed with one of the above 12 health conditions may be automatically eligible for VA healthcare and disability compensation as long as they meet the following service criteria:
- Active military service beginning August 2, 1990, in the Southwest Asia theatre of operations, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, the neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and the airspace above these sites.
- Active military service beginning September 19, 2001, in Syria, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, or Djibouti.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough stated, “Veterans who suffer from rare respiratory cancers associated with their service deserve the very best America has to offer, but they’ve had to wait for the care and benefits they deserve for far too long,” he said. “That ends now.”
VA announced it will notify veterans who have applied for burn pit benefits in the past about the updated list. VA states that those veterans who have a pending claim on one of the nine cancers or conditions on the list do not need to change anything and should receive a decision notice incorporating the new presumptive list rules.
Note that you do not have to wait to hear from the VA to file a claim for benefits or appeal a prior decision. If you have been denied benefits for a condition on the burn pit presumptive list in the past, you can file a supplemental claim. Veterans can leave comments about the new presumptive list here.