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Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Exposures

Frequently Asked Questions

General Information

What are airborne hazards?

“Airborne hazard” refers to any sort contaminant or potentially toxic substance that we are exposed to through the air we breathe. While on active duty, military service members may have been exposed to a variety of airborne hazards including the smoke and fumes generated by open burn pits. Other less visible substances service members may have been exposed to through the air include:

  • Sand, dust, and particulate matter
  • General air pollution common in certain countries
  • Fuel, aircraft exhaust, and other mechanical fumes
  • Smoke from oil well fires

Blast and noise injuries may also be contributing factors to both short and long-term health issues associated with exposure to airborne hazards.

To learn more, visit the airborne hazards and burn pit exposures homepage.

What are open burn pits? Where and how were they used?

The Department of Defense defines an open burn pit as an area of land used for the open-air combustion of trash and other solid waste products. Waste products commonly disposed of in open burn pits include chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metal/aluminum cans, munitions, unexploded ordnance, petroleum and lubricant products, plastics, rubber, wood, and food waste.

To learn more, visit the airborne hazards and burn pit exposures homepage.

If I was exposed to a burn pit during my military service, could it affect my health?

As with all environmental exposures, whether you experience health issues related to exposure to burn pits or other airborne hazards depends on a variety of factors. Many health conditions related to these hazards are temporary and should disappear after the exposure ends. Other longer-term health issues may be caused by a combination of hazardous exposures, injuries, or illnesses you may have experienced during your military service. Factors that may indicate greater or lesser risk for short or long-term health effects include:

  • Types of waste burned
  • Proximity, amount of time, and frequency of exposure
  • Wind direction and other weather-related factors
  • Presence of other airborne or environmental hazards in the area
Can I get health care from VA for health issues I think are caused by burn pit exposure?

If you are concerned about the potential health effects of exposure to burn pits or other airborne hazards, we encourage you to apply for VA health care, and file a claim for compensation and benefits if you have not done so already. You do not need to file a claim to enroll in VA health care. Once enrolled, your VA care team will work with you to understand your health concerns and connect you with the care and services you need to get – and stay – healthy. Learn more about eligibility for VA health care here.

If you served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan or Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or New Dawn (OND) in Iraq, you can receive free VA health care for up to 5 years after separation from the military. Taking advantage of this enhanced eligibility period may help your VA claim for compensation, benefits, and health care later.

Veterans who participate in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burns Bits Registry (AHOBPR) can also get a free environmental health examination from VA whether you are enrolled in VA health care or not.

Can I get a service-connected determination or compensation and benefits for burn pit exposure?

Currently VA makes determinations about whether certain health conditions are connected to exposure to airborne hazards like burn pits on a case-by-case basis through the VA claims process. This allows us to evaluate factors including number of deployments, length and proximity of exposure, the presence of other air pollution and other hazards along with the most recent medical science to grant service-connected determinations. This process ensures we consider the unique experiences and needs of each Veteran including potential exposure to other types of environmental hazards.

We encourage all Veterans who are concerned about exposure to burn pits or other airborne hazards to talk to talk to your health care provider, apply for VA health care, and file a claim for compensation and benefits. You do not have to file a VA claim to receive care from VA.

If you served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan or Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or New Dawn (OND) in Iraq, you can receive free VA health care for up to 5 years after separation from the military. Taking advantage of this enhanced eligibility period may help your VA claim for compensation, benefits, and health care later.

Do I have to file a claim or participate in the registry to get care from VA?

No, you can apply for VA care even if you have not started the claims process or joined the VA Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry (AHOBPR). If you served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan or Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or New Dawn (OND) in Iraq, you can receive free VA health care for up to 5 years after separation from the military. This includes potential health effects related to environmental or airborne exposures. Taking advantage of this enhanced eligibility period may also help your VA claim for compensation, benefits, and health care later.

I’m already enrolled in VA health care – how do I get more information about treatment for health issues I think are related to airborne hazards or burn pit exposure?

If you are already enrolled in VA health care, talk to your provider or care team about your health concerns. You can also contact your facility’s environmental health coordinator for more information and resources on environmental exposures.

You can also get a free environmental health evaluation by participating in the VA Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry (AHOBPR). Completing the registry questionnaire and undergoing the medical evaluation can help you proactively identify health concerns, discuss them with your health care provider, and get follow-up care. You do not have to be enrolled in VA health care to participate in the registry.

Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry (AHOBPR)

What is the burn pit registry? Why should I participate?

VA established the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry (AHOBPR) in 2014 to help put data to work for Veterans through research about potential health effects of burn pit exposure and other airborne hazards. By completing the registry questionnaire, you can provide information to help us better understand whether long-term health conditions may be related to these exposures. Even if you have not experienced any symptoms or illnesses you believe are related exposures during military service, your participation in the registry could help VA provide better care to all Veterans.

To check your eligibility for the registry and complete the online questionnaire, visit the secure registry portal.

  • Participation in the registry is voluntary and cannot negatively impact your access to VA health care or your claim for compensation and benefits.
  • You may also use your responses to the registry questionnaire and optional medical assessment to support your VA claim if you choose.
  • Completing the questionnaire can also help you proactively identify health concerns, discuss them with your health care provider, and get follow-up care.

Veterans and active-duty service members are eligible to participate in the registry if you were deployed to the Southwest Asia theater of operations any time after August 2, 1990 or Afghanistan or Djibouti after September 11, 2001.

  • Regions and countries include: Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Djibouti, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, waters of the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and Red Sea.
  • Operations and campaigns include: Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Enduring Freedom (OEF), New Dawn (OND), Desert Shield, and Desert Storm (ODS/S).

You can participate even if you do not recall any exposure to airborne hazards during your military service. While these hazards may have been present in other locations or during other time periods, participation in the registry is currently limited to support specific research and public health studies. However, even if you are not eligible for the registry, we encourage all Veterans who are concerned that their military service has impacted their health to talk to their health care provider, apply for VA health care, and file a claim for compensation and benefits.

Please note that because of current research constraints, family members or caregivers of deceased Veterans or service members may not complete the registry questionnaire on their behalf.

Should I participate in the registry even if I’m not sick or don’t recall whether I was exposed to airborne hazards?

Yes, we encourage all eligible Veterans to participate in the registry even if you do not have any symptoms or health concerns that you think are related to burn pit exposure. You can also participate even if you don’t recall whether you were exposed to any type of airborne hazard during your military service. By participating you can support research that helps us better understand potential long-term health issues and provide better care and services to all Veterans.

Additionally, completing the registry questionnaire and undergoing the free medical evaluation can help you proactively identify health concerns, discuss them with your health care provider, and get follow-up care if you need it.

To learn more, visit the registry information page.

Do I need to be enrolled in VA health care or file a claim to join the registry?

No, you can participate in the registry whether or not you are enrolled in VA health care or have filed a VA claim. You just need DSLogon credentials.

VA uses the DS Logon credentials issued by the Department of Defense (DoD) to help protect any personal health information (PHI) you may share via the registry.

  • If you already heave a VA eBenefits or MyHealtheVet premium account, you can use the same credentials to log into the burn pit registry.
  • To apply for a new DSLogon account, please visit the VA Mobile Health site.
What kinds of questions will I be asked? Do I need any documentation to participate in the registry?

The registry questionnaire includes questions about a variety of information including:

  • When and where you were deployed
  • Your health history and/or symptoms you have experienced in the past
  • Any health conditions that impact your daily activities
  • Where you live or have lived throughout your life
  • Whether you have been exposed to dust, gas, fumes or vapors either during your military service or other periods in your life
  • Your home environment, hobbies, and activities
  • How and when you seek health care
  • Your contact information

We encourage registry participants to base questionnaire responses on your recollections or memories of your deployments. However, you may refer to official documents, notes, photos, or other materials if you choose. If you have multiple deployments, you may be asked to answer the same or similar questions more than once. It’s important to fill out the information for each deployment as completely as possible, even if you provided the same information in an earlier section. Complete questionnaires provide the best information to support continues research about burn pits or other exposures.

To begin the questionnaire, visit the secure registry portal and log in with you DS Logon credentials.

How will the information I share be used? Is it safe to share my personal information with the registry?

VA is committed to protecting your privacy and restricts access to personal health information (PHI) in accordance with all federal privacy laws. We primarily use information shared via the registry for the purposes of research in order to better understand whether exposure to airborne hazards like burn pits impact Veterans’ long-term health. If you are enrolled in VA health care, your care team can also access your registry questionnaire for the purposes of providing you treatment. VA researchers may also access the registry and contact participants to help improve care, services, or communications about these issues.

To help protect your information, VA uses two-factor DS Logon credentials issued by the Department of Defense. If you already heave a VA eBenefits or MyHealtheVet premium account, you can use the same credentials to log into the burn pit registry. To apply for a new DS Logon account, please visit the VA Mobile Health site.

Do I need to join the registry to receive compensation and benefits from VA?

Participation in the registry is separate from compensation and benefits evaluations and cannot negatively impact your VA claim. You may choose to submit a copy of your registry questionnaire or notes from the voluntary registry environmental health evaluation to support your claim.

Learn more about how to file a VA claim

I joined the registry several years ago. Can I still get the optional health evaluation?

Yes, if you completed the registry questionnaire, you can contact your VA facility’s Environmental Health Coordinator at any time to schedule your registry health evaluation. We also encourage you to talk to your primary health care provider and apply for VA health care if you have not done so already.

Registry Technical Questions

How long does it take to complete the questionnaire?

It takes up to an hour to complete the registry questionnaire depending on your number of deployments. You can save your responses and come back to complete the questionnaire later if you need more time. We do encourage all participants to complete the questionnaire for all eligible deployments to Southwest Asia because it helps support robust research about long-term health effects of airborne hazard and burn pit exposures.

I tried to sign up, but the registry says I do not have eligible deployments. What should I do?

If you were deployed before 9/11, were a part of special forces, or were re-deployed within three months, you may get a notification in the registry portal that you do not have an eligible deployment. This is due to technical constraints but does not necessarily mean you are not eligible. To continue completing the questionnaire please click the blue banner stating “Request Eligibility Review” and follow the additional steps.

When I add a deployment, I don’t see the name of the base where I served. What should I do?

If you served in Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, or New Dawn but don’t see the base name, check for an alternate spelling. If you served in Operations Desert Storm/Desert shield, Kuwait, or Djibouti, the name of the base where you served will likely not be listed.

If for any reason you cannot find your base name when adding a new deployment to the questionnaire, leave the base entry blank. You will be able to fill it in later in the questionnaire.

Research and Scientific Understanding

What is an environmental exposure?

We all interact with thousands of substances in our daily lives. Some substances are only harmful if they get into our bodies in large quantities while others are toxic even in the smallest amounts. Determining whether potentially harmful substances have a negative impact on our health requires understanding the amount, frequency, and intensity of the exposure. How an exposure occurred – whether it was ingested, inhaled, or touched your skin – can also be a factor. Because people rarely stay in one place, do just one job, or engage in the same activities throughout in their lives, it can be hard to determine with certainty that exposure to any one substance or source directly causes a given health condition.

This is also true of exposure to airborne hazards like the smoke and fumes created by burning waste in open pits. Many health conditions related to these hazards are temporary and should disappear after the exposure ends. Other longer-term issues may be caused by a combination of hazardous exposures, injuries, or illnesses including:

  • Sand, dust, and particulate matter
  • General air pollution common in certain countries
  • Fuel, aircraft exhaust, and other mechanical fumes
  • Smoke from oil well fires
  • Blase or noise injuries
Is VA currently researching the health effects of burn pit exposures?

VA, DoD, and our research affiliates are actively studying burn pits and other military environmental exposures to better understand potential long-term health effects. Experts at the VA Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence (AHBPCE) are responsible for conducting research on respiratory issues, unexplained shortness of breath, and other health conditions that may be related to airborne hazard exposures. The Center of Excellence uses information from the VA Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry (AHOBPR) and other sources to inform their research initiatives. They also conduct in-depth studies through the Post Deployment Cardiopulmonary Evaluation Network (PDCEN).

What is the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pits Center of Excellence?

To help better understand the effects of exposure to airborne hazards like burn pits, VA established the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence (AHBPCE) in 2019 at VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) in New Jersey. The Center is responsible for conducting research on respiratory issues, unexplained shortness of breath, and other health conditions that may be related to airborne hazard exposures.

The Center uses information from the VA Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry (AHOBPR) and other sources to inform their research initiatives. They also conduct in-depth studies through the Post Deployment Cardiopulmonary Evaluation Network (PDCEN).