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Supreme Court strikes down military ‘burn pit’ lawsuits

Burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq. (Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/U.S. Air Force)
January 18, 2019
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On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that an earlier federal appeals court ruling would stand, and that many military veteran burn pit exposure lawsuits would not move forward.

The legal battle, which is nearing the 10-year mark, was “initiated by military veterans and private contractors who claim their health problems are related to their exposure to open burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Fox News reported.

The defendant in the case was KBR, Inc., the military contracting company that officiated the burn pits.

Hundreds of open-air burn pits were used throughout U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, releasing chemicals into the air from trash, human waste, petroleum, rubber and other debris.

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In 2016, Military Times reported on a plea that came from 700 veterans and family members with advocates group, Burn Pits 360, to former President Barack Obama, which read, “Many of us went to war able to run marathons, but now our health has deteriorated so much that we cannot hold down steady jobs. We are misdiagnosed. We are not getting the medical care we urgently need. We need you to act in this, your final year in office.”

Troops exposed to burn pits have attributed medical conditions, such as respiratory issues and cancer, to the toxic fumes.

Rosie Torres, Executive Director of Burn Pits 360, said, “The burn pits are this generation’s Agent Orange, but we are seeing deaths happen after three or five years, instead of decades later. We cannot afford to wait for another delayed medical study, we need the president and Congress to recognize this crisis is happening now.”

The lawsuit was struck down by the U.S. District Court, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and this week by the Supreme Court, which agreed that KBR cannot be held liable since they were being directed by the U.S. military.

Torres said, “America has turned its back on its war heroes. It’s disgusting.”

Torres’ husband, Leroy Torres, an Army Reserve service member for 23 years, was stationed in Iraq in 2007 and exposed to huge burn pits and was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

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Returning a year later, he was hospitalized for lung disease.

“As a husband, a father and a first responder, I have been deprived of my dignity, honor and health. I returned home from war to face a health care system that failed me and an employer too afraid to understand an uncommon war injury resulting in termination of my law enforcement career, subsequently facing foreclosure, while at the same time receiving VA denial letters for compensation for illnesses still not recognized by VA,” Leroy Torres said.

James Ledlie, an Army veteran and lawyer for the plaintiffs, said, “Our veterans deserve better. There’s no doubt that they were exposed to burn pits run by civilian contractors, and it’s unfortunate that they didn’t have their day in court to have their claims truly adjudicated on the merits,” National Public Radio reported.

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