Was Your Base Exposed? A Guide to AFFF and Potential VA Claims

Firefighting

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) was a firefighting agent extensively used at military bases across the United States for decades. Recent health concerns linked to the perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals present in AFFF have prompted investigations into potential exposure risks for veterans. 

Through this blog post, we will try and guide veterans who may have been exposed to AFFF during their service. The blog post is an outline of methods to determine potential exposure and provides essential information on navigating the Veterans Affairs (VA) claims process for AFFF-related health issues.

Was Your Base Exposed?

Since 1960, AFFF has served as a critical firefighting tool across numerous military installations. The firefighting solution consists of cancer-causing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

However, the use of AFFF was unhindered as the military did not reveal the potent side effects publicly. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to various health concerns. However, it is important to ascertain if your base was indeed exposed to the contaminants for a prolonged period.

To determine if your base used AFFF, several resources are available. The Department of Defense (DoD) has published reports listing bases for confirmed AFFF usage. Veteran advocacy groups also maintain databases of exposed bases.

Non-Exhaustive List of Resources

DoD PFAS Site Database: 

The Department of Defense maintains a comprehensive database of military sites with confirmed PFAS contamination. This resource provides detailed information about the extent and nature of PFAS exposure on specific bases. Veterans can search the database to determine if their base of service is listed.

EWG Interactive Map: 

The Environmental Working Group, or EWG, has created a helpful tool. It’s an interactive map that visualizes PFAS contamination across the United States. This map allows users to see areas with confirmed PFAS pollution.

You can use this map to assess the potential for PFAS exposure in the areas where they served.

Short-Term Exposure 

Veterans who served at bases with documented AFFF use, even briefly, may be at risk. The tenure of exposure plays a crucial role in evaluating potential health repercussions.

Limitations and Individual Records

While these resources provide valuable information, they have limitations. Not all bases with AFFF use may be listed. Individual service records are the most definitive way to confirm exposure. You should try to obtain your complete service records for an accurate assessment.

Consulting with Experts

Consulting with environmental health experts and veteran advocacy groups can provide further guidance. These professionals can help interpret service records and assess exposure risks. They can also provide insights into potential health effects and VA claims for exposure to AFFF. 

Understanding Potential Health Effects

Exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the hazardous compounds present in AFFF, has been associated with various health issues.

As veterans grapple with the aftermath of their exposure, understanding these potential effects is crucial. 

Health Conditions Linked to PFAS

Studies have associated PFAS exposure with several serious health conditions, including:

  • Certain cancers, including colon, breast, and pancreatic cancer
  • Immune system dysfunction, leading to decreased vaccine response and increased infection risk
  • Thyroid problems, such as hypothyroidism and thyroid disease
  • Pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia and gestational hypertension
  • Ulcerative colitis, a chronic digestive disorder

VA Claims and Health Conditions

The VA currently does not consider any health conditions as presumptively linked to PFAS exposure. However, veterans who believe their condition is related to in-service PFAS exposure can still pursue a VA disability claim.

You must provide medical evidence of their condition and its potential connection to their service. 

Collaborating with seasoned medical professionals and claims specialists is crucial for constructing a robust case. 

Challenges in Establishing Causation

It is crucial to understand the complexities of the VA claims process for AFFF exposure. The presence of a diagnosed health condition, while a significant factor, doesn’t guarantee a successful VA claim. Here’s a breakdown of key considerations:

Scientific Association vs. Direct Causation 

Studies suggest a possible association between PFAS exposure and certain health conditions. This association implies a correlation, but it doesn’t definitively establish PFAS exposure as the sole cause of a specific health issue. 

The VA requires a higher standard of evidence, aiming to establish a direct causal link between AFFF exposure and the veteran’s diagnosed condition.

Medical Documentation and Service Records

Detailed medical documentation linking the diagnosed health condition to potential AFFF is needed to strengthen your claim. This documentation should include the date of diagnosis, relevant medical history, and any specialist reports that support a possible connection to PFAS exposure.

Additionally, military service records are crucial evidence. They demonstrate service at a base with documented AFFF use during the relevant timeframe. This helps establish the opportunity for exposure.

Individual Variability and Multifactorial Conditions

The human body reacts differently to environmental exposures. Factors like individual genetics, overall health, and co-existing medical conditions can influence how PFAS exposure manifests.

Some health conditions, like certain cancers, often have multiple contributing factors. The VA acknowledges this complexity. It carefully evaluates all available evidence to determine the likelihood of AFFF exposure being a primary cause of the veteran’s health issue.

Understanding these factors empowers you to approach the VA claims process robustly. 

Navigating VA Claims for AFFF Exposure

For veterans exposed to AFFF during their service, filing a VA claim can be a complex and daunting process. 

To be eligible for VA disability benefits, you must demonstrate that your illness is a result of active service during which you were exposed to PFAS. The first crucial step in filing a VA disability claim is obtaining a disability rating from the VA.

Understanding Disability Ratings

The VA assigns disability ratings based on the severity of your condition. These ratings range from 0% (indicating no disability) to 100% (indicating total disability), increasing in increments of 10%. If you receive a rating of 10% or higher, you become eligible for monthly compensation from the VA.

Streamlined Claim Approvals

The VA has recently issued guidance that accepts direct contact with AFFF as presumptive evidence of exposure. This advancement could simplify the process of approving claims for veterans.

Starting Your Application

To begin your application, reach out to VA hotlines to learn about the various claim options available to you. Seek guidance from veteran organizations to help you gather the necessary evidence. Stay informed about new legislation that may expand veteran access to AFFF-related benefits by following updates from advocacy groups.

Legal Assistance

As lawsuits against AFFF manufacturers like Tyco, Chemguard, and 3M continue to escalate, it’s important to consult with legal groups that have been vetted by veterans associations before retaining counsel. According to TorHoerman Law, compensation in this emerging legal landscape remains unpredictable, so it’s crucial to thoroughly explore your options.

Finding Support and Advocacy

Veteran support groups and organizations, such as the Armed Forces Families Foundation, offer a haven where you can connect with peers who have also been affected by AFFF. These groups provide opportunities to build connections with professional healthcare, benefits, and legal resources.

Online forums also serve as platforms for afflicted veterans to exchange valuable guidance on navigating complex healthcare systems and disability claims processes. Through exchanging stories and knowledge, veterans can bolster each other amid the hurdles they encounter.

In conclusion, remember, your service and sacrifice matter, and you have every right to fight for your health and well-being. By understanding the claims process, gathering strong evidence, and seeking the right support, you can give yourself the best chance of securing the benefits you deserve. 

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