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Congress Drops Burn Pit Exposure from Pentagon Research List

Senior Airman Frances Gavalis tosses unserviceable uniform items into a burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq, on March 10, 2008. Julianne Showalter/Air Force
Senior Airman Frances Gavalis tosses unserviceable uniform items into a burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq, on March 10, 2008. Julianne Showalter/Air Force

Burn pit exposure as a cause of illnesses among veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan failed to make the 2016 list of peer-reviewed medical research programs that Congress requires the Defense Department to conduct. The absence of burn pit exposure on the list was confirmed on Tuesday by a spokeswoman for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs at Fort Detrick, Maryland. "Congress designates the topic areas for each fiscal year, and these topic areas change each year," Gail Whitehead told Military.com. The research programs fall under the Department of Defense budget.

"There's nothing comparable," said Anthony Hardie, director of Veterans for Common Sense. "There's very little research inside the [Department of Veterans Affairs]." Ron Brown, president of the National Gulf War Research Center, which has long advocated for more medical research into Gulf War Illness and now burn pit exposure, said he didn't know why the topic was discontinued. It was added for the first time to the list in 2015, according to Brown, who took part in the peer reviewed process this year. "What they may have done ... instead of listing it as 'burn pit exposure,' is broken it down in subcategories dealing with specific illnesses that would be covered under [that topic], such as constrictive bronchiolitis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis," he said. "But why they would do that I'm not sure," Brown said, because burn pit exposure as a topic would have covered those and other ailments that affect veterans of the Persian Gulf War, Iraq War and Afghanistan War. The Defense Department's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs provides research grants and contracts to study illnesses and possible treatments for illnesses and diseases related to military service. The program's 2015 budget totaled $247.5 million. From 1992 through 2015, the department's funding for the effort totaled more than $13 billion. --Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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Iraq Veterans Health Care