The Veterans Affairs Department has extended the deadline for the public to comment on its planned registry for service members exposed to open-air burn pits through Aug. 20.
According to a press release issued Wednesday by VA, the department is asking Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as well as former Persian Gulf War troops for feedback on a questionnaire designed to let them report health concerns and exposures.
More than 200 people have commented through the Federal Registry web page, offering opinions on the questionnaire and sharing their experiences living and working near waste-disposal burn pits.
One female veteran said she would like to see VA monitor women and their children for long-term health concerns.
“I went to Iraq in 2005 and lived across the street from a burn pit. Two years later, I had my first child who has health issues. In the process of trying to find out what was wrong with her, she was heavy-metal tested. She has heavy metals that are found only in countries that burn e-waste. My daughter has never been around burning garbage,” the veteran wrote.
To establish its “Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry,” VA is legally required to solicit comment on the proposed collection of information for the index.
The questionnaire covers work and residential history, hobbies, health history, smoking and tobacco use and potential exposures.
Dan Sullivan, president of the Sergeant Thomas Joseph Sullivan Center, a not-for-profit dedicated to promoting awareness and research on post-deployment health conditions, raised concerns that the questionnaire focuses extensively on individual health and habits and not primarily on deployment history or military experiences.
“It includes one section that directly addresses deployment dust and smoke exposures. The remaining seven sections track non-deployment environmental exposures. I’m worried this will not provide enough information on exposures to provide valuable data,” Sullivan said in an interview with Military Times in June.
The 2012 Dignified Burial and Veterans Benefits Improvement Act required VA to establish a burn-pit registry by January 2014.
Some troops who lived and worked near burn pits in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have complained of ailments and symptoms ranging from shortness of breath and general malaise to rare lung diseases and cancerous tumors.
The law seeks to determine how many veterans were exposed to burn-pit smoke while deployed so VA can track their medical histories and keep them apprised of new treatments for associated conditions.
The original deadline for submitting comments was Aug. 5.