For Veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or other areas of Southwest Asia, exposure to airborne hazards like burn pits might be a serious concern. Even if you don’t think you were exposed to a specific hazard, you can take steps to proactively monitor your own health and help other Veterans.

Understanding the science of airborne hazard exposures

We all interact with thousands of substances in our daily lives. Some substances are only harmful if they get into our bodies in large quantities. Others are toxic even in the smallest amounts. Determining whether potentially harmful substances have a negative impact on our health requires understanding the amount, frequency, and intensity of the exposure.

How an exposure occurred – whether it was ingested, inhaled or touched your skin – can also be a factor. Because people rarely stay in one place, do just one job or engage in the same activities throughout their lives, it can be hard to determine with certainty that exposure to any one substance or source directly causes a given health condition.

This is also true of exposure to airborne hazards. Many health conditions related to these hazards are temporary and should disappear after the exposure ends. Other longer-term issues may be caused by a combination of hazardous exposures, injuries or illnesses, including:

  • The smoke and fumes from burn pits.
  • Fuel, aircraft exhaust, and other mechanical fumes.
  • Sand, dust, and particulate matter.
  • General air pollution common in certain countries.
  • Fuel, aircraft exhaust, and other mechanical fumes.
  • Smoke from oil well fires.
  • Blast or noise injuries.

Join the registry today

VA established the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry in 2014 to put data to work for Veterans and help us better understand the potential health effects of these exposures. By joining the registry, you can provide information that supports ongoing research and helps VA provide better care to all Veterans.

It can also help you identify health concerns, discuss them with your provider and get follow-up care. You can even submit a copy of your registry questionnaire to support your VA claim if you choose.

We also encourage all Veterans concerned about toxic exposures during their military service to talk to their health care provider, apply for VA health care, and file a claim for compensation and benefits.

Once enrolled, your VA care team will work with you to understand your health concerns and connect you with the care and services you need to get – and stay – healthy.

Sign up. Get care. Help others. Learn more at

Elizabeth Meyer is a member of the VA Post Deployment Health Services communications staff.

Share this story

Published on Feb. 2, 2021

Estimated reading time is 2.2 min.

Views to date: 511


  1. Theodore Sweet February 23, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    I was stationed at the 27th US Army Field and Artillery Detachment (USAFAD) Erzurum, Turkey in 1988-89. Nicknamed “the Rock”, 27th USAFAD wasthe most remote hardship tour in the United States Army during the time I served there. Our duty station was housed inside a Turkish military site and contained nuclear weapons. I was the Supply Sergeant and Unit Armorer. One of my weekly duties was (on Friday) receiving supplies sent to us from Incirlik Air Force Base, which was over a 1000 miles away, via a C-130.

    I would travel with my Turkish assistant to the Erzurum airport and wait for the C-130 with my orange taxi paddles. Many times the plane could not land because of visibility. Because of the frigid temperatures in Erzurum, the local citizens would burn a combination of hay and sheep dung in wood burning stoves inside their homes, for heat. A side effect of burning these materials was the pilot did not have visibility to land. When I returned to the Detachment with no supplies (our mail, food, magazines, care packages, beer, cigarettes, Captain Crunch cereal and other materials for our self run PX) the soldiers would be depressed.

    My question is are there any residual side effects from inhaling the air in Erzurum considering what was being burned and the fact nuclear weapons was housed there?

  2. James c Russell February 14, 2021 at 8:01 am

    Jim Russell Vietnam 1967 to 1968 Danang weapons technician loading and unloading planes was subject to aircraft fuel and debrisHad lung problems later on in life many years after I left Vietnam

  3. Veronica Dean February 14, 2021 at 1:29 am

    I have had experiences with radiation fallout while stationed in Schweifurt,Germany. I have thyroid cancer and I’ve put cause was the Charnyolbol incident

  4. Rlroyster February 13, 2021 at 6:48 pm

    We burned our feces with mogas and diesel and stirred it and breathed it…-What s smell.

  5. Richard Caccamo February 9, 2021 at 12:30 pm

    Every day during my tour in Vietnam 1968-1969 241 st Transportation Co. in Long Mei Valley outside of Quin Nhon. Could smell it throughout the day and even in the latrines at times the half 55gal barrels released the heat from being burned if your timing was bad. Plus they used agent orange around the base for weed control and often had Chinooks landing to pickup parts for the choppers up north kicking up a ton of crap with those dual engines. My hearing is shot and i’m always having sinus problems, wonder if it’s anyway connected?

  6. Dennis M. O'Brien February 4, 2021 at 9:17 am

    68-69 USMC
    DMZ fire bases, Alfa 3, Con ten ? Gia Linn new enlisted had pleasure of pouring diesel fuel into crap pots burning while standing over and stirring them along with dropping flares into piss tubes daily. Are Viet Nam vets covered under “Air born Hazards Exposure”? I have COPD & Asthma.

  7. edward bard February 3, 2021 at 8:46 pm

    In Iraq 2007. VA says no your sleep apnea is not because you where around burn pits.

  8. John Willamson February 3, 2021 at 4:40 pm

    Check out the HunterSeven Foundation, they specialize in toxic exposures and healthcare promotion.

  9. Christopher V. Coats February 2, 2021 at 5:20 pm

    Deployed to Iraq in 2003 stationed at Camp Buka in southern Iraq since returning I have been diagnosed with behavioral variant frontal temporal degeneration a neurological disease I have also had breathing issuesAnd have recently been diagnosed with a heart issue there was much burning in the camp Buka area during my time there

    • Heidi Ann Hummer February 6, 2021 at 4:14 am

      Chris, my husband has the same exact diagnosis as you. He served in 91 southern Iraq. All claims have been Denied three times. No proof even though he has had a cough since he left the service but he never complained while he was in the Army. Now I will be planning my husbands funeral in the next couple years. Twenty years of signs and symptoms of Golf war symptoms and all we get is Denial service connection letters. Shame on the US Goverment.

  10. MICHAEL KOZENKO February 2, 2021 at 2:44 pm


  11. James b DeFoy jr February 2, 2021 at 2:23 pm

    Was on Kuwait on 91 oil fires

  12. Mark Drake February 2, 2021 at 1:10 pm

    Most fuel to burn the crap was vehicle and avionics fuel. Every morning smoke rose from every Company on base camps and fire bases. It may have been safer to be on patrol than living of bases in Viet Nam. Your lung issues may be from just being on any base or field landing site.

  13. Mark Drake February 2, 2021 at 11:02 am

    Has any one stationed in Viet Nam had lung issues that mighty be related to burning of feces in Viet Nam?

Comments are closed.

More Stories

  • PTSD Bytes: Host Pearl McGee-Vincent discusses PTSD and relationships with Dr. Leslie Morland and Dr. Kayla Knopp, clinical and research psychologists.

  • Clinical simulation training has expanded rapidly and nearly any clinical scenario can be created and taught. Orlando VA trains of hundreds of professionals in their labs.

  • How often do you make things harder than they must or should be? This week's episode of #LiveWholeHealth is a progressive muscle relaxation to reduce stress and lighten your load.