A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals recently concurred with a lower court opinion that Iraq and Afghanistan disabled veterans because of exposure to burn pits cannot move forward with dozens of lawsuits against a military contractor (KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton). The prevailing opinion of the lower court found for the contractor since the military had unrestricted control over KBR so that KBR’s decisions on waste management and water services were “de facto military decisions” not appropriate for judicial review. The plaintiff’s attorney representing more than 800 current and previous service members stated that they were disappointed with the decision and did not indicate if they would appeal to U.S. Supreme Court.  KBR successfully argued that the decision to use burn pits was made by the military, which also made decisions on where the pits would be located, what hours they would operate and what would be burned. Veterans organization are supporting the “Burn Pits Accountability Act” (H.R. 5671). The bill directs the Defense Department to provide service members in Iraq and Afghanistan periodic health assessments during deployment and during military separations; an evaluation of whether or not a service member has been exposed to open burn pits or toxic airborne chemicals. If they report being exposed, they will be enrolled in the Burn Pit Registry unless they opt out. The bill is sponsored by Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) and Brian Mast (Fla.), Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, respectively. For more information, contact Sandra at the Veterans Service Office at 602 Strong Ave on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 3pm, or call 365-3612.

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