Veterans who served at bases with burn pits were more likely to develop asthma, hypertension and heart disease than individuals not exposed to the toxic air, according to a new study based on recently declassified Defense Department data.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, tracked nearly 460,000 veterans receiving medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Authors said it is the first comprehensive look at health outcomes for U.S. troops deployed at 126 of the largest bases used in Iraq, Afghanistan and nearby countries from 2001 to 2011.

Researchers saw a small but significant increase in rates of developing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases among those former service members.

In particular, individuals who served near burn pits were more likely years later to suffer from asthma, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and ischemic stroke.

“While the associations were modest in magnitude, there are several million potentially affected veterans, making any elevation in risk important to document,” the report stated.

The new findings add to the lengthy list of research pointing to detrimental health effects for troops who served near burn pits, which were used to dispose of a variety of routine and toxic waste in combat zones by U.S. forces.

In 2022, Congress approved legislation allowing for the fast-tracking of benefits to troops who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and associated areas because of presumed connections between the toxic air throughout those regions and subsequent respiratory and heart problems.

Authors of the study — which included faculty from Brown University, Boston University, Keene State College and VA research officials — credited Defense Department officials for releasing the new data on troop deployments, saying the information “lends itself to addressing other potential health consequences of deployment-related exposures.”

That’s a sharp contrast to past criticisms of the department for failure to provide sufficient air monitoring and health care data on the issue of burn pits and military toxic exposure incidents.

The full study is available on the JAMA website.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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