Season 1
Episode 1

Burn pits were standard military practice during the wars we waged in the Middle East and now tens of thousands of our veterans are suffering from respiratory diseases, cancers, and other illnesses caused by exposure to the toxic black smoke the pits emitted. That is awful enough, but the Department of Veterans Affairs was also routinely refusing to acknowledge that these illnesses were connected to veterans’ service and was denying them benefits.

Scroll down to learn more about how the veterans we had on our episode and other advocacy groups worked tirelessly to pass legislation that expands access to care for veterans exposed to toxins during service.

The problem with burn pits

This episode takes a deep dive into the horrifying realities of burn pits — giant holes that get filled with all kinds of trash, from plastic bags to entire trucks to human body parts and then gets lit on fire with jet fuel. The U.S. military routinely used burn pits to dispose of trash during our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among others. In the process, some 3.5 million soldiers were potentially exposed to the carcinogen-laden smoke released by these massive burning piles. Now many of those soldiers have developed rare respiratory problems and cancers as a result of their exposure to burn pits. There is ample science showing that the chemicals released by burn pits are linked to these diseases, but for a long time the Department of Veterans Affairs claimed there wasn't yet enough science to prove the service connection. This allowed the VA to deny benefit claims for these vets and to deprive them of the care they desperately needed. To put it nicely, it was a total fucking mess.