Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence - War Related Illness and Injury Study Center
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War Related Illness and Injury Study Center

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Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence

Learn about the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence, including work in research, education, and clinical care, below and in the information sheet.

AHBPCE Updated Information ON COVID-19

We recognize that there has been so much scientific and medical information being communicated related to COVID-19. We know that Veterans also have a number of questions and concerns. Yet with so much information out there, it may be difficult to understand the specific implications for yourself, your family and loved ones. The Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence (AHBPCE) continues to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our Veterans and is taking steps to contribute to what is known and respond to questions that Veterans may have.

A question we are often asked is whether Veterans are at increased risk for poor outcomes given potential exposures or deployment. In general we know from the CDC that there are a number of health conditions that may put an individual at increased risk of susceptibility to COVID-19 that includes: chronic kidney disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart conditions, being immunocompromised from solid organ transplant, obesity a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or higher, or severe obesity (BMI of 40kg/m2 or higher, sickle cell disease, smoking or type 2 diabetes. Here is the information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In terms of Veterans, what we know is that our Veteran communities of color, older Veterans, those living in rural areas, and those that are homeless are disproportionately impacted by this pandemic. We also know that older male Veterans with multiple medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney and liver disease appear to be most at risk for COVID-19 related hospitalization and death. These reports are sobering and reflect our Nation’s broad experience with this pandemic to date.

What remains less well known is the long-term impact on the physical and mental health of Veterans who were infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 who did not require hospitalization or have been discharged. The AHBPCE is currently initiating a research project to reach out to these Veterans to understand their specific symptoms, any treatment they may have received and their recovery. It is very important to understand any of these Veterans ongoing problems possibly linked to COVID. We are aware of published studies and medical case reports in non-Veterans suggesting prolonged symptom recovery including shortness of breath, fatigue, and cognitive concerns. This is important because these are many of the same symptoms our Veterans with airborne hazards and open burn pit exposure concerns self-report irrespective of COVID-19. We are also analyzing data using the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry to identify patterns or clusters of individuals who may be at greater risk of COVID-19 and its associated illness.

Over time we have learned of some more effective treatments to reduce the effects of COVID-19 in addition to best practices to avoiding infection such as social distancing and face coverings. These practices need to continue. The availability of vaccines for COVID-19 is our best way forward to prevent infection and stop this pandemic. The safety of any vaccine is clearly important, and the good news is that those that are becoming available have demonstrated both safety and that they are effective. The VA has been working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and other partners to ensure Veterans and their providers are able to receive a vaccine as it becomes available and some VA staff and providers as well as Veterans in long term care facilities are already receiving it. Please see here for more information.

Again, we appreciate any questions and concerns Veterans have. Our goal at the AHBPCE is to continue to look for answers and to share what we know with the Veteran and the healthcare community as well as seek out new knowledge to address these concerns.

AHBPCE Statement on COVID-19

We recognize that many Veterans are concerned about the potential for health effects from exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards. It is known that exposures to respiratory irritants such as smoke from burn pits, oil fires, explosives, as well as sand and dust storms can cause a variety of symptoms such as irritation of the sinuses, mucous membranes and the respiratory tract. This can result in cough, chest tightness/discomfort and difficulty breathing. We also know Veterans may wonder how, if at all, airborne hazard exposures may impact them given the current situation with the coronavirus. We do know that Veterans who are over the age of 65 or who have underlying health conditions such as asthma, chronic lung problems or other underlying medical issues may be more susceptible and experience more severe symptoms if infected with the coronavirus as is seen in the general population.

The Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Center of Excellence (AHBPCE) recommends that Veterans follow the CDC guidelines of social distancing, frequent handwashing, and avoid touching your mouth and eyes. The AHBCE continues to study the potential for longer term health implications from exposure to airborne hazards including smoke from burn pits. The VA and AHBPCE will continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and all reliable scientific and medical information. As new information regarding this pandemic becomes available, we will continue to update the Veteran and provider community. To all our Veterans, stay safe and thank you for your service. Continue practices that can best support your health.

Please find more information regarding COVID-19 from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Defense.


MORE INFORMATION

The Airborne Hazards Center of Excellence at the New Jersey War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (NJ WRIISC), established in 2013, was officially recognized by Congress and the President in Public Law 115-929 as a VA Center of Excellence. Designated as the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence (AHBPCE) in May 2019, the Center conducts clinical and translational research related to airborne hazards and burn pits focusing on a range of health concerns including respiratory concerns and unexplained shortness of breath (dyspnea), among other health outcomes.

An important function of the Center is to actively develop and deliver new educational content and best practices related to airborne hazards and burn pits for health care providers, Veterans, and other stakeholders. As a study center with a focus on research, the AHBPCE is utilizing information from the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry to systematically study and evaluate airborne hazard and burn pit concerns through a number of research initiatives.

The AHBPCE is also utilizing data and information from the registry to identify individuals who have completed the online registry and report the following specific health concerns, including:

    1. Self-reported constrictive bronchiolitis
    2. Self-reported obstructive lung disease
    3. Self-reported idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and/or other respiratory disease
    4. Self-reported shortness of breath of unknown origin (Dyspnea)

    Using an established protocol, Veterans who have been identified from the registry may be invited to come to the AHBPCE or a Post Deployment Cardiopulmonary Evaluation Network (PDCEN) site for further in-depth study. Studying Veterans with specific categories of health concerns drawn from the registry will enable researchers to generalize or extend the findings beyond any one individual to a broader group (or cohort) of Veterans. This will also enable scientists and health professionals to accomplish three important things:

      • Better identify the relationship between airborne hazard and burn pit exposures and longer-term health outcomes;
      • Identify research to improve understanding of health concerns; and,
      • Identify possible treatments to improve care.

    Monitoring the registry data also enables researchers to identify possible trends or health outcomes of concern so they can be addressed.

    The protocol for identifying Veterans to be seen includes:

    A thorough chart review to determine if the self-reported health concerns have been thoroughly worked up by a VA provider; whether or not a diagnosis has been confirmed and is accurate; whether the Veteran is part of the VA health care system; and if the Veteran is stable for travel and to undergo the extensive testing performed.

    The AHBPCE provides comprehensive cardiopulmonary evaluations. Learn more about our comprehensive cardiopulmonary evaluations.

    Learn more about the AHBPCE’s Post Deployment Cardiopulmonary Evaluation Network and research highlights.