VA to review Burn Pit record in wake of report calling for full review

VA to review Burn Pit record in wake of report calling for full review

the Department of Veterans Affairs will re-examine a registry that tracks veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other airborne pollution following two reports that were highly critical of the database, including one published Oct. 13 that recommended it be removed by complete in its present form.

The report, from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicinedescribed the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry as “not useful” and suggested that its resources and effort devoted to the database would be better used to improve the patient surveillance system and research platform.

The report from the academies followed a VA Office of Inspector General Assessment in July who criticized the registry-required questionnaire as too cumbersome to complete and criticized the VA for failing to ensure that veterans understand the requirements for obtaining registry-related health assessments, voluntary exams that they must schedule themselves.

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VA Secretary Denis McDonough said Tuesday that the VA has “a lot to think about” with the findings of both reports.

“We have a group of veterinarians that we work with, and I will say their anecdotal experience is consistent with the findings,” McDonough said during a news conference in Washington, DC “We want to get it right; we’ll get it right. I think we have the tools now.” To do it good”.

More than 270 combustion pits were used in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere to dispose of waste generated during military operations. The pits, some up to 10 acres wide, were used to incinerate garbage, medical waste, computer hardware and batteries, plastic bottles, tires and more, sending clouds of smoke over the facility and its inhabitants.

Service members often returned from deployment having trouble catching your breath or coughing up black phlegm, which many refer to as “Iraqi garbage.” Thousands have developed respiratory illnesses, skin conditions, and cancers that may be related to exposure.

Congress directed the VA to establish the Airborne Hazard and Burn Pit Registry in 2013 to track the overall health of veterans who had been potentially exposed and identify trends. The registry would also serve as a database for research and policy development and medical treatment as this group of veterans ages.

However, from the beginning, the registration had problems. VA officials fought the idea even before it was signed into law, saying the program had little value since a connection between burning pits and any disease had not been proven.

Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs designated several respiratory illnesses as suspected to be caused by exposure to burn pits, including asthma and chronic sinusitis, as well as several rare types of lung cancer. The PACT Act added more, 23 additional illnesses in all, allowing affected veterans to apply for expedited health care and benefits.

Following the registry’s implementation in 2014, advocacy groups questioned the length and scientific rigor of its required questionnaire and took issue with its many questions about smoking and personal habits, saying the information could be used to attribute disease to unhealthy behaviors. healthy, blaming veterans rather than the burn pits, which were run by the Department of Defense.

Critics also noted that loved ones of deceased veterans were unable to come together and enter data on their veterans’ deaths, so that they would be counted as part of the surveillance.

Eight years later, the National Academies’ panel of researchers agreed that the process, including the 140-question survey, was too cumbersome. Panelist Kristin Olson, director of the Office of Sociological Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said the questionnaire was difficult to understand and complete.

“The more deployments you’ve had, the longer it will take to complete the questionnaire,” he said. “Many veterans don’t know the information requested in the questionnaire and … don’t know or refuse to fully answer the question,” Olson said during a briefing on the report.

More than 3.7 million veterans and service members are eligible to join the registry, but as of July 1, only 10% had completed the process, according to the report. Another 130,000 veterans had started the registration process but never finished the questionnaire.

Of those who completed the registry, about half applied for the health screening, but only 30,000 underwent that screening.

The academy panel also noted that the registry does not allow veterans to update it, making it useless from a health surveillance standpoint to track people’s health problems or disease groups, as health problems can develop after veterans complete registration.

Additionally, the panelists noted, the VA does not use the registry to guide policy decisions, nor does it analyze or interpret the data provided by participants, but instead chooses to summarize their responses.

“The health issues experienced by the many veterans who have deployed to Southwest Asia require sustained and rigorous attention and need to be addressed, but the Open Well and Airborne Hazards Registry is not the right mechanism to meet all needs,” he said. David Savitz, professor. of epidemiology at Brown University School of Public Health and chair of the committee, said in a news release.

The VA Inspector General’s review had similar findings. The auditors found that the veterans were unaware that they were responsible for scheduling their own exams and were also not completing the questionnaire at an alarming rate.

“Improvements to the registry screening process would help ensure that more eligible and interested veterans receive them,” the IG noted.

The National Academies recommended that the registry be modified to meet the needs of the veteran population and provide value to researchers and policymakers studying and developing guidance for caring for this population of veterans as they age.

The panel suggested that the VA find “more effective alternative mechanisms for research into the health effects that may result from these exposures and population health surveillance. Members suggested a streamlined registry to maintain a list of veterans and concentrate research resources elsewhere.

“The committee recommends that the AH&OBP Registry be terminated in its current form, as its stated purposes have largely been to support population health research and surveillance, neither of which it can do,” they wrote in the report.

McDonough said Tuesday that the VA will begin Exposure screenings for patients enrolled in VA health care as of November 8. He added that the test, along with expanded benefits under the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT, passed in August, will help veterans access health benefits.

[VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef] Elnahal and his team are looking very closely at how we can make it more effective to bridge the gap between exposure identification and specialized treatment when needed and, in all cases, a speedy review of VBA claim adjudication where they are earned and deserved. McDonough said.

— Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime

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