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Petraeus: Helping veteran burn pit victims is ‘sacred obligation’

Gen. David Petraeus listens on as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Fournoy speaks at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. (Alex Campbell/Medill News Service/Released)
September 04, 2018

A prominent retired Army general recently spoke out about the necessity of helping a group of veterans said to be abandoned by the U.S. government.

Gen. David Petraeus, former commander of U.S. Central Command and Multi-National Force-Iraq, said America must aid service members who experienced numerous medical issues after exposure to burn pits on military bases, Fox News reported Monday.

“It’s a sacred obligation,” Petraeus said, in an exclusive Fox News interview. “And by and large, our country does an extraordinary amount for our veterans and for those who are serving in uniform, and for their families.”

Petraeus said this veteran group of burn pit victims has been largely ignored by Washington and Veterans Affairs, and have not been receiving adequate care for their medical issues.

“But comparing what our VA does to any other country’s care of veterans… this is the gold standard. Certainly, a gold standard that can always improve, without question. This is an issue, though, where we have a sacred obligation, and we need to meet that obligation,” he told Fox.

Military base burn pits have been used since the 1990s as a method of disposing various levels of waste, including toxic chemicals and medical waste. The open-air burn pits introduced several pollutants into the air, including carbon monoxide and dioxin.

During the Iraq War in 2005, more than 300,000 troops stations in the Middle East were exposed to the fumes and smoke emitting from at least 63 burn pits.

More than 140,000 active duty service members and retirees are named in the Burn Pit Registry.

Thousands of veterans and contractors alike who returned from the Middle East reportedly developed numerous health problems, including cancer, respiratory issues and blood disorders – all of which is attributed to inhaling the chemicals and toxins from burn pits.

Petraeus noted that prioritizing the war made trash disposal a low priority.

“At that time we weren’t worried about burn pits. We were worried about just getting enough water for our troops in the really hot summer,” Petraeus said. “We were looking forward to the time where we might get some real food, real rations, as opposed to MREs and so forth.”

“They obviously fought us back. But over time, in that tour, in particular, you start noticing other issues,” Petraeus continued. “So, yes, there is serious combat going on. But you’re noticing that there’s this massive burn pit that is up-wind of us. So it blows over this huge base, Camp Victory, where we had 25,000 or more soldiers based and stationed.”

“We had a number of other locations, again, where we had these burn pits. And you start to notice it more and more. And I got more and more concerned during that time – I mean, it’d been something I’d noticed previously,” he said. “But now I realize that we’ve got all these soldiers who are, on really bad days, inhaling whatever it is that’s being burned in these pits.”

Although incinerators were discussed as a disposal option and some even brought in for use, problems operating the incinerators resulted in the continued use of burn pits as an easier option.

In a letter to Congress, Petraeus requested support for the Burn Pits Accountability Act.