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The Veterans Affairs Department will conduct a long-term study of the possible health effects of deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, including exposure to environmental hazards and open-air burn pits.
According to the Feb. 4 issue of the Federal Register, VA will launch a new burn pit and airborne hazards-related longitudinal study of recent combat veterans to determine whether there is a relationship between deployments and illnesses such as cancer, respiratory disease, circulatory problems, neurological conditions and more.
VA Secretary Erik Shinseki has asked the Defense Department to take a role in the study and help VA address the medical needs of those who have deployed, the announcement states.
VA previously had insisted that an Iraq- and Afghanistan-centric health cohort study was not needed because VA already participates in several longitudinal health studies, including the Millennium Cohort Study, which evaluates the long-term health of service members, the Million Veteran Program and Gulf War veteran studies.
But on Monday, VA officials announced they decided to follow the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine, which in 2011 recommended additional research to determine specific health outcomes allegedly caused by exposure to burn pits.
"VA believes such studies would be helpful in properly assessing affected veterans for compensation purposes as well as for medical evaluation, treatment and follow up," the announcement states.
To launch the airborne hazards study, VA will evaluate current studies to determine whether any "lessons learned" are applicable to the new study.
VA also plans to establish an independent committee to oversee the project, to include setting objectives and designing the studies.
According to VA, those involved in the cohort research will receive baseline and repeat medical examinations and interviews over the course of years to determine, monitor and treat any long-term effects of deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.
VA will release more details on the study as it is developed.