“These burn pits were utilized to incinerate plastics, batteries, medicine, and medical waste; often deployed soldiers sleeping areas were located within a constant haze of smoke from the burning waste.”
United States District Court Judge Roger W. Titus has dismissed one of the largest lawsuits around burn pit operations, ruling in favor of defense contractor KBR. This is the second time Titus has ruled against veterans and their families in this case. After dismissing the case for the first time in 2013, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals returned the case back to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.
The lawsuit contained 60 complaints from 735 plaintiffs, to include 44 national class action suits. The plaintiffs had argued that the former Halliburton subsidiary had irresponsibly operated burn pits throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, leading to a wide range of diseases and illnesses, to include life-threatening respiratory illnesses, neurological issues, and cancers.
KBR insisted in a statement on June 29th that they operated their burn pits “safely and effectively at the direction and under the control of the U.S. military.” What their statement does not acknowledge is that the burn pits they operated burned 24 hours a day and sometimes covered areas as large as 10 acres.
Until the practice was officially banned by the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, these burn pits were utilized to incinerate plastics, batteries, medicine, and medical waste; often deployed soldiers sleeping areas were located within a constant haze of smoke from the burning waste.
However, Judge Titus effectively ruled that any link between the burn pits and dead or dying veterans was irrelevant, because the defense contractor was operating in accordance with guidance (or lack thereof) from the Pentagon. He noted in his ruling that he had no doubt that many of the plaintiffs “have been harmed, at least, by some extent by the use of open burn pits” in Afghanistan or Iraq.
As KBR and Halliburton were paid $40 billion to provide services that included burning trash, Titus stated that they were just doing as directed by the military. “The decision to use the burn pits was not made by the contractors but rather by the military.” Titus also wrote that he was “sympathetic to the claims of the plaintiffs,” but this sympathy will not be paying any of the victims or their families.
In his ruling, Judge Titus pointed to veterans compensation benefits and possible upcoming legislation introduced to Congress this year as “remedies” for those harmed by the KBR burn pits.
A statement on behalf of the defendants stated that “KBR believes the court made the correct decision, and we are pleased that this legacy case is one step closer to final resolution.” An attorney representing the plaintiffs stated that her clients would be filing another appeal with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Over a dozen of her clients have died since their cases were first consolidated in 2009 while KBR continues to bid on and win contracts with the United States military.
Contrary to Judge Titus’ claims about benefits available to remedy the situation, many family members of deceased veterans are not eligible for any sort of compensation. His ruling pushes their plight into the same realm as Vietnam era veterans and their Agent Orange experiences.