For some time, military personnel have been returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan only to encounter problems with their breathing. Amongst the theories as to what might be the cause of such difficulty is exposure to burn pits routinely used at far-flung military bases to dispose of waste.
The release of toxic fumes from Iraq burn pits, among others, has been met with little concern on the part of the military, given that military personnel were not required to take precautions with a view to protecting their lungs from potential toxins in the smoke.
The Tennessean on Thursday retold the story of Jimmy Williams, who thought he might be simply out of shape following his retirement from the US Army in 2007. He would complain of feeling tired and worn down, barely possessing the capacity to mow his lawn.
Williams has since learned that he has scarring in his lungs following two tours of duty in Iraq. The correct name for his rare condition is constrictive bronchiolitis—and Williams believes it was his exposure to toxins escaping with the smoke from the Balad burn pit that provides the primary cause for his problems.
The study results that appear in the NEJM do not necessarily link constrictive bronchiolitis solely to military burn pits, according to one of the researchers involved in the study. That said, Dr. Robert F. Miller of Vanderbilt University Medical Center notes that Iraq burn pits could certainly be a contributing factor.
And while a cause for constrictive bronchiolitis has not yet been found, Dr. Miller did suggest that the disorder is linked, in some way, to service in the Middle East.
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Diagnosing constrictive bronchiolitis has proven to be a challenge: the condition does not show up via standard testing procedures, but instead is revealed through the acquisition of open lung biopsies.
Williams indicated he had approached the US Department of Veterans Affairs (The VA) for assistance, but is steeling himself for a denial of his claim based on a lack of medical data about his condition, according to what he had been told by a representative at The VA. For his part, Dr. Miller is urging The VA to recognize the disorder involving, but not limited to, burn pit exposure for the procurement of benefits for affected military personnel and their respective families.
Some soldiers have had to resort to burn pit litigation to get some help.