veterans, advocates, and lawmakers are continuing down the long road of seeking remedies for the victims of toxic exposures from burn pits in the post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

It all began with burning trash. According to KDH news, there were immense pits of burning trash at military bases in post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan. The trash burned included batteries, plastics, and human waste. The burn pits were meant to be temporary for trash disposal, but the effect of the smoke plumes reportedly lingered, not in the sky, but in the bodies of the Veterans who breathed in the dark toxins: heavy metals, poisons, chemicals, and dioxins, much like the Agent Orange that afflicted our Vietnam Veterans.

There have been efforts by lawmakers to seek remedies. Veteran Representative Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced the Burn Pits Accountability Act, reports The Military Times. But many introduced laws fail to pass or to be implemented effectively. The bulk of the burden falls on Veterans and advocates to make the case for a remedy. But the struggle is long and hard-fought.

Burn pit exposures devastate Veteran families

Dark clouds of economic uncertainty and devastating illness hang over the Veteran families of those affected. Our medical and benefits systems are ill-equipped to deal with environmental injury. And so the layperson, the families of the wounded take on the vigilance of burn pit advocacy as a sacred duty.

CBS News reported that LeRoy Torres was a Texas state trooper, a captain in the Army Reserves who breathed in the darkened plumes of the burn pit and was never the same. When he returned from battle, he had lost the power of breath. His life, once to serve and protect, became a struggle for oxygen. LeRoy Torres is not alone among Veterans affected.

For the purposes of advocacy, LeRoy and his wife Rosie formed an organization, Burn Pits 360, to register and make a list of the number of Veterans affected. It has collected thousands of names. But there are many names yet to be counted.

The New York Times Magazine reports that even former Vice President Joe Biden has speculated that his deceased son, Beau Biden, may have contracted terminal cancer from burn pit exposure.

This is a toxic exposure that has affected Veteran families across the nation, at many socioeconomic levels, yet according to advocates our government has yet to provide a supportive response.

Veterans seek accountability through litigation

Today, Veteran advocates continue to seek remedies for what are believed to be the short and long-term health impacts of burn pit exposure. The New York Times Magazine reports that litigation against the military contractor KBR, Inc., which operated many of the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, began in 2008 and has not yet come close to recovering damages for victims. The litigation has remained suspended for a decade in the early stages of dismissal and appeal based on the legal question of the liability of KBR, Inc.

for its actions during the post-9/11 military operations.

That primary obstacle in the progression of the litigation is that KBR, Inc. has claimed that its construction and operation of the burn pits on military bases for trash disposal was ordered and sanctioned by the United States Military, thus making company safe from civil litigation for damages via an extension of the umbrella of the legal principle of "sovereign immunity" to include military contractors (The principle of sovereign immunity generally protects the United States government from certain civil lawsuits by plaintiffs, including Veterans, seeking to recover damages for injuries).

According to the New York Times Magazine, on May 9 a federal court of appeals heard oral arguments on in the issue, but accountability, if it comes for our nation's Veterans, may ultimately come from legislation or Supreme Court decision.

Meanwhile, despite the apparent risks of trash-burning, the fires of the burn pits continue to flame on certain United States military bases throughout the world, as do the flames of the aftermath of burn pit exposure here at home.