U.S. military veteran Joseph Hickman's new book, “The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers,” describes how soldiers were allegedly poisoned by the U.S. military's practice of burning toxic substances in Iraq and Afghanistan (video below).
More than 250 of these "burn pits" were dug near U.S. military bases to burn garbage, Salon reports.
The garbage included, “tires, lithium batteries, asbestos insulation, pesticide containers, Styrofoam, metals, paints, plastic, medical waste and even human corpses," according to Hickman's book.
Thousands of soldiers and local civilians were reportedly exposed to the toxic smoke, which may have led to a high increase in cancer and birth defects.
“The rate of having a child with birth defects is three times higher for service members who served in those countries,” Hickman wrote in his book.
The burn pits were run by Kellogg, Brown and Root, which was a subsidiary of Halliburton, the company former Vice President Dick Cheney led before taking office in 2000.
Cheney collected a deferred salary, while Halliburton was awarded enormous government contracts of almost $40 billion by the Bush/Cheney administration during the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reportedly continues to deny most veterans medical care for illnesses related to burn pits.
Hickman told Salon:
I think [Obama] holds a lot of responsibility for it, but I think the biggest problem is Congress and the Senate. Because when a soldier gets sick the first thing he [or she] does is write his congressman or senator if he’s not getting results from the VA or DoD.
They still follow the chain of command, so that’s their last complaint, and the senators and congressmen have just really dropped the ball on this completely. And I think that is totally politically motivated, because a lot of these senators and congressmen they’re reaching out to are in bed with defense contractors.
While soldiers cannot sue the U.S. government, Hickman says there is a lawsuit against KBR. The U.S. Defense Department will not testify against KBR.
KBR operated many of the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are some regulations for contractors, but they’re not nearly as stringent, and the penalties are not nearly as harsh for contractors as they are for soldiers.
So these contractors were super careless with these burn pits. There were burning anything and everything in them, and they didn’t care and they didn’t think they could be held accountable.
They’ve grown to the point where they feel that the government can’t operate without them. These companies have that arrogance. Contractors that were operating the burn pits in Iraq were actually told by their headquarters, “If they’re going to investigate us over these burn pits, don’t worry about it. If we pull out, they can’t run this base.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states on its website:
At this time, research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits. VA continues to study the health of deployed Veterans.
Toxins in burn pit smoke may affect the skin, eyes, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, gastrointestinal tract and internal organs.
Veterans who were closer to burn pit smoke or exposed for longer periods may be at greater risk. Health effects depend on a number of other factors, such as the kind of waste being burned and wind direction.
Most of the irritation is temporary and resolves once the exposure is gone. This includes eye irritation and burning, coughing and throat irritation, breathing difficulties, and skin itching and rashes.
The VA cites a burn pits study by the Institute of Medicine, which was commissioned by the VA. The study was not completely independent from government influence as the IOM notes on its website:
The Department of Defense provided raw air-sampling data, which were used to determine which chemicals were present at JBB and which were present in ambient air. Based on this data, the committee found that levels of most pollutants at the base were not higher than levels measured at other polluted sites worldwide.
However, insufficient evidence prevented the IOM committee from developing firm conclusions about what long-term health effects might be seen in service members exposed to burn pits.
"In general, the VA needs some scientific basis," Paul Ciminera, director of the VA's Post-9/11 Era Environmental Health Program, told Military.com in October 2015.
In December 2015, Military.com reported that Congress removed burn pit research from the U.S. Defense Department's research list.