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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Zambakari

Of Burn Pits, a Registry and the PACT Act

Righting a wrong with expanded benefits to U.S. veterans


Dr. Christopher Zambakari, B.S., MBA, M.I.S., LP.D.


Nathalia Zambakari, Board Certified AGACNP-BC

 

Under a single home care umbrella, Desert Haven Home Care, Apollo Residential Assisted Living, Oasis of Prescott, and Villa Fiore Assisted Living feature unparalleled care, service and advocacy in the compassionate treatment of senior citizens in need of medical attention. Offered in a familial setting, the facilities are teamed by professionals passionate about their work and fully engaged in the welfare of residents. Each facility proudly provides patient-centric supervisory, assisted and directed care, short-term respite stays and memory care support for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.


This following exploration of the new PACT law that expands Veterans Administration healthcare benefits for U.S. military veterans is one of a series of regular informational blogs relative to the field of senior care.

 

We didn’t see this coming?


Chemical warfare – from mustard gas, to lewisite, and from sarin gas to ricin – is as much a part of a soldier’s rucksack as the M-1 Garands of yesteryear and the M-249 preferred today. Chemical warfare has been used for more than a century by armies and scientists alike to unleash holy hell against their enemies. In fact, it was in April 1915 that the first large-scale attack using chemical weapons took place at Leper, Belgium, during World War I. Now, suddenly, as though an epiphany, there is the realization, or the confession, that there has been all along a just-as-murderous agent amongst the midst of our U.S. troops.


Burn pits.


Credit: Chinnapong / Shutterstock

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs defines a burn pit as “an area devoted to open-air combustion of trash.” But it so much more, admits the office. “Smoke from these pits contained substances that may have short- and long-term health effects, especially for those who were exposed for long periods or those more prone to illness such as individuals with pre-existing asthma or other lung or heart conditions.”

The smoke has had consequences.

Troops who worked at burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those exposed to multiple dust storms during war-zone deployments, have higher rates of common respiratory illnesses. Included are asthma and emphysema, lung, stomach and skin cancers – just some of the more common sequelae. Brain cancer, leukemia and lymphoma have also been reported. Prostate cancer, testicular cancer, blood cancer and soft tissue sarcoma have made their insidious way into military service-connected cancers, according to data drawn from the Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.

And, no wonder. The waste incinerated in burn pits reads like a list of the most fantastic super villains out to destroy the world – one soldier at a time. Says the Veterans Affairs department, “Waste products in burn pits include, but are not limited to: chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metal/aluminum cans, munitions and other unexploded ordnance, petroleum and lubricant products, plastics and Styrofoam, rubber, wood, and discarded food.” And the kicker: “Burning waste in pits can create more hazards compared to controlled high-temperature burning—like in a commercial incinerator.”


The Open Burn Pit Registry


The dangers of burn pits for veterans have become more widely acknowledged, and are now a significant concern for the government. As an example, the Open Burn Pit Registry was established in 2014 by the VA office to help understand the potential health effects of exposure to airborne hazards during military service. Additionally, the Registry monitors and supports veterans exposed to burn pits.


The Registry works; it is an important tool in assisting affected veterans. As evidence of its reach, some 350,000 veterans and service members had joined the Registry by late summer of 2022. These registrants are becoming more aware of their health, receiving information about ongoing health studies and VA services, creating a “snapshot” of their health to guide health discussions with a health care provider.


And, after nearly 10 years, the VA is making changes to the Registry to expand eligibility and to make it easier to use. Among the updates is participation eligibility to those deployed to one of three new locations: Syria or Uzbekistan since 9/11, or Egypt since August 1990. Others who can join the Registry include those deployed to the Southwest Asia theater of operations any time after August 2, 1990, or Afghanistan or Djibouti on or after 9/11.


PACT is the largest healthcare and benefit expansion in VA history.

To access the benefits provided by the Open Burn Pit Registry, veterans must first enroll in the program. Enrolling in the program can be done online through the VA website. Once enrolled, veterans have access to a wide range of resources and support to help manage their health and well-being.


To qualify for benefits from the Open Burn Pit Registry, veterans must have served in a location where burn pits were used. Additionally, veterans must have a service-related illness or injury associated with their exposure to burn pits. These conditions can include respiratory problems, skin conditions, and other chronic illnesses that are associated with the airborne hazards of burn pits.


The PACT Act


The PACT Act (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics) is an important new law that expands VA healthcare and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances, such as burn pits and Agent Orange. It recognizes toxic exposure as a “cost of war,” addressing the full range of issues impacting toxic-exposed veterans.


The largest healthcare and benefit expansion in VA history, it is named in honor of Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson, who died in 2020 from toxic exposure as a result of his military service.


PACT expands VA healthcare and services by enabling greater access to care for veterans exposed to toxic substances. The goal of the PACT Act is to provide veterans with the resources they need to manage their health and to prevent, diagnose and treat adverse health conditions related to toxic exposure.


The act also provides additional benefits. It allows veterans to receive additional compensation for service-connected disabilities and healthcare services related to their exposure. PACT also expands the benefits available to veterans with disabilities, such as vocational rehabilitation and employment services.


The dangers don’t disappear


The dangers of burn pits for veterans are significant and far-reaching. The Open Burn Pit Registry and the PACT Act are both critical initiatives designed to support and protect the health and well-being of veterans and service members who were exposed to burn pits.


If you are a veteran who served in a location where burn pits were used, it is important to enroll in the Open Burn Pit Registry and to seek medical attention if you are experiencing any health problems associated with burn pit or other service-related toxic exposure. By taking these steps, you can ensure that you receive the care and support you need to manage your health and well-being effectively.


For more information about the Registry, visit the VA Registry website.

For more information about the PACT Act, visit the VA PACT website.

 

About the Authors

Dr. Christopher Zambakari, B.S., MBA, M.I.S., LP.D.


Christopher Zambakari is the owner and operator of four Arizona-based assisted living care homes – Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix, Apollo Residential Assisted Living in Glendale, Oasis of Prescott and Villa Fiore Assisted Living in Prescott Valley. He provides direction and oversight to a team of licensed medical and caregiving professionals to ensure the highest levels of customized care, service and advocacy at each of his facilities.


Nathalia Zambakari, Board Certified AGACNP-BC


Nathalia is a board-certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and a licensed medical professional responsible for short-term care patients suffering from severe conditions. As part of the care team, Nathalia reviews the medical records of incoming residents, helping to manage patient regimens and performing caregiver education to ensure the best care, service and advocacy for her residents-in-care.

Disclaimer

The material presented on this blog does not constitute medical advice. We encourage you to consult your primary care physician (PCP). The statements in this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult your personal physician for specific medical advice. If you or your loved one is considering the benefits of quality assisted living, please contact us at 602-670-9326, or email us at info@deserthavenaz.com.



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