Burn pits are, without a shadow of a doubt, the post-9/11 veteran’s Agent Orange. Countless troops have been exposed to the toxic gases given off by the mishandling of dangerous substances, and twelve veterans have died as a direct result of this negligence. Everything from heart disease to lung cancer has been found in veterans who have been exposed to the fumes.
There were over sixty different lawsuits raised against KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton that oversees the waste “management,” and each was struck down in court. A final nail was added to the proverbial coffin recently when the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the decision of the Court of Appeals, stating KBR wasn’t liable for their actions because they were under military direction.
The ruling also goes for the Open Air Sewage pits that were constructed by KBR. In the simplest of terms, there were giant ponds of literal human sh*t next to troop housing and no one thought that it was a problem.
This means that the mishandling of waste, as conducted by KBR, that put the lives of troops and veterans at risk has been permitted by the highest court in the land. Any attempt to seek compensation by those affected will now be struck down using this ruling and Halliburton will remain protected.
Not only is this horrible news for the troops and veterans who’ve been affected by burn pits, but it sets a precedent that protects civilian negligence if done for the U.S. military in a war zone. According to MilitaryTimes, KBR argued that they cannot be sued because they, essentially, were operating as an extension of the military. They also claimed that the only way to control contractors’ actions was through military oversight.
While the burn pits are the subject of the majority of the lawsuits, there are more claims against KBR. One such claim revolves around the wrongful death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a Green Beret at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex in Baghdad, Iraq. In January, 2008, he was electrocuted to death while trying to take a shower in a facility constructed by KBR. The plaintiffs argue that KBR was well aware of the shoddy work, but it wasn’t fixed and the troops were not warned.
This case was also dismissed.
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it…
It is true that, in the past, the U.S. military has instructed personnel to burn waste in the absence of an alternate method of disposal, but it’s never been done at the scale for which KBR is responsible. There is a massive difference between troops in an outlaying FOB burning an oil drum filled with human waste and the 147 tons of waste burned daily at Balad in 2008.
The U.S. military is by no means blameless in this situation. It did put a “stop” to burn pits in Iraq in 2009, but the Government Accountability Office found 251 such pits in Afghanistan and 22 in Iraq in August, 2010. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is taking proper steps to right this wrong with the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. If enough people register, our military will be forced to look at the true scope of this problem and act accordingly.
The truth is, there was a better solution to handling the waste, but that was skipped in favor of the most expedient route. Now, countless veterans have terminal illnesses for their actions and the Supreme Court has just given future contractors in the ability to take shortcuts — even if it’s certain to put troops in harm’s way.