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VA Inspector General highlights agency failures over burn pit claims

Roughly 3.5 million U.S. veterans since 1990 have served in areas that put them in proximity to burn pits

July 21, 2022 3:13pm

Updated: July 21, 2022 4:09pm

The Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday released two reports showing serious department failures in processing and examining claims connected to burn pits.

Burn pits are outdoor waste disposal grounds, usually dug into the earth, in which its operators dump waste and burn it. The U.S. military commonly uses burn pits at its installations abroad. Use of such facilities may expose personnel to airborne hazards and toxins from burning waste, as well as the flames themselves. Roughly 3.5 million U.S. veterans since 1990 have served in areas that put them in proximity to burn pits, according to the OIG.

The first report dealt with the Veterans Health Administration and its registry exam process for evaluating burn pit-related claims, which the inspector general deemed unsatisfactory.

It "found many veterans did not complete the 140-item questionnaire, which is not clear and veteran-centric," per an official summary of the report. "Veterans also did not always realize they were responsible for scheduling their own exams."

The watchdog recommended "revising the questionnaire to be more veteran-centric, identifying whether veterans with unscheduled exams are still interested in one, and implementing processes and metrics to ensure exams are completed." It also recommended the authoring of procedural guidance relevant to burn pits.

The second report dealt with the Veterans Benefits Administration and its compensation grants to servicemen who develop health afflictions connected to burn pits.

VBA processes appear to have performed marginally better, but the OIG still recommended a significant overhaul. "Though VBA staff nearly always made the correct decision in granting compensation for conditions identified as burn pit-related, the OIG found most denials were premature," the report summary reads.

It recommended "correcting four errors involving improperly granted conditions, and reviewing denied cases, correcting errors they identify, and certifying that corrections were made." It further advised the VBA to update its procedures manual and training procedures related to burn pit claims.

The issue of burn pits has attracted national attention as the nation struggles to help its injured veterans from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. With overwhelming bipartisan support, the Senate in June passed the Honoring Our PACT Act to aid veterans who developed afflictions from burn pit exposure.

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