Veterans' exposure to burn pit emissions

The Challenge 

At sites in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military burned its waste in open pits. The smoke contained pollutants that may have short- and long-term health effects in certain cases of exposure (inhalation, touch, etc.).

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry for service members and veterans exposed to emissions from these burn pits and other sources of air pollution during their deployments to the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, or Djibouti after September 11, 2001.

About 3.5 million veterans are eligible to participate in the registry. To sign up, veterans complete a questionnaire about their health and their exposure to airborne chemicals and fumes. The VA then links this information to the veterans’ electronic health records.

The VA hired Westat to analyze data from the registry and report on the exposures and health conditions experienced by registrants.

Our Solutions 

  • For the project, Westat:
    • Reported on registry participants’ exposures, health conditions, and demographics
    • Examined differences between the participants and eligible population of veterans and active servicemembers
    • Evaluated self-reported disease status by comparing the diagnostic codes recorded during medical encounters at VA
    • Conducted in-depth analysis to examine the association of burn pit exposure with respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses
    • Wrote fact sheets presenting key findings from various analyses
  • We are in the process of preparing conference presentations and a manuscript for peer review.

The Results 

  • Findings from the analyses allow the VA to better understand veterans’ deployment-related health concerns, and how the registry data can be used to study the association between exposure and disease.
  • This understanding will enable the VA to improve its outreach efforts toward veterans exposed to airborne hazards and burn pit emissions.

Our Client 

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)