Veterans Ask Court to Reinstate Lawsuits over Open Burn Pits
During the OEF and OIF wars, government contractors burned up to 227 metric tons of hazardous waste at forward operating bases using jet fuel in large ground pits. Now veterans and their families have asked a federal appeals court to reinstate more than 60 lawsuits against KBR, Inc, a former Halliburton subsidiary, for health issues caused by the toxic burn pits.
The case, which dates back to 2008, consolidated dozens of lawsuits by hundreds of veterans and their families seeking to recover damages
Previously dismissed by U.S. District Judge Roger Titus, his 2017 ruling stated the burn pits were a military decision, not one made by KBR, Inc. He added that federal courts have no power to second-guess the executive branch’s wartime decisions, a precedent known as the political-question doctrine. Titus also held that “sovereign immunity,” which generally shields the federal government from being sued, extends to private contractors supporting the military in a combat zone.
Attorney Susan Burke, representing the servicemembers and families, has asked the 4th Circuit court to reverse Titus’s ruling, allowing the cases to move forward.
Items burned included: batteries, medical waste, amputated body parts, plastics, ammunition, human waste, animal carcasses, rubber, chemicals, & more.
Burke said KBR operated burn pits at 119 locations when it only had permission to use the pits at 18 sites. Warren Harris, KBR’s attorney, said that KBR operated only 31 burn pits, and the remainder of them were operated by the military.
The health issues include lung diseases such as life-threatening constrictive bronchiolitis and cancer, as well as a range of diseases including gastrointestinal disorders and neurological problems. It is believed that at least 12 service members have died from illnesses caused by the burn pits.
For years, veterans’ advocates have been pushing the Veterans Administration (VA) to adopt burn-pit exposure as a presumptive-service connected disability. The VA has denied many of their claims, concluding there is not enough evidence to link burn pits to their illnesses.