That’s when Shulkin said that no one had ever brought up the subject of burn pits throughout his three years as a top V.A. leader. However, this appeared to be an impossibility: Toxic-exposure claims had already begun to be logged in the VA’s national burn-pit registry during Shulkin’s tenure, and in 2017, he signed off on an assessment of data utilisation by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
Burn pits has been the subject of controversy, as documented by PBS, the New York Times, and others. Throughout the legal process, the KBR class action case was generating headlines. A New Jersey facility that studies airborne risks and burn pit exposure was also visited by Shulkin in 2016.
“Burn pits weren’t even an issue while I was there,” Shulkin added, even hinting that the problem may have been deliberately minimised. To be honest, I don’t know if that was intentional, but there are measures in place to keep things hidden. It was never brought up in conversation or made public.
To current VA officials, I recited Shulkin’s depiction of V.A. silence on burn pits. When asked if she thought it was surprising, VA health specialist Dr. Patricia Hastings ultimately remarked, “I’d find it surprising.
On and off-the-record interviews with a wide spectrum of current and past VA personnel revealed a number of alleged knowledge gaps. In the VA, no one seemed willing or able to explain why the department had changed its mind on burn pits in the field. It was noted by officials that the agency was massive, the second-largest after the Department of Defense, and that some of the disagreements over the science had occurred a long time ago. “The V.A. prides itself on rigorous research, intellectual freedom and sympathy for veterans,” they stated.
Four assessments on airborne risks have been commissioned over the years, but none have found any link between health concerns and burn pits, according to officials. Nevertheless, the V.A. last year decided to modify its position after examining the available research in late 2020 and 2021. Scientific findings have evolved and constitute less of an abrupt shift than an evolution in the V.A.’s thinking, according to a statement from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The Miller biopsies are still regarded as a groundbreaking discovery in burn pit research, despite its detractors. Desperate to show their doctors that they weren’t lying or pretending to be ill, returning soldiers began travelling to Tennessee for a biopsy on their own dime. Nonetheless, Miller has been accused of urging patients with normal test results to undergo the painful and invasive treatment, particularly by military doctors.
When it comes to studies on burn pits, doctors have shown an unprecedented level of hostility. Scientists who believe their work has been disregarded or exploited for political reasons have high stakes in this debate. People who believe in the burn pit (activists, their critics claim) and those who don’t believe in the burn pit (obstructionists, the others say).
Finally in 2013, Miller received an email from the Veterans Affairs (VA) inquiring about his expertise in developing criteria for measuring respiratory disability. Although he had identified evidence of constrictive bronchiolitis in his biopsies, the CDC thwarted his efforts to construct a criterion for the ailment, he claims.
When Miller and Dr. Gary Reynolds exchanged emails that year, the doctor threatened to “launch a congressional inquiry,” using his previous work with the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs as justification for his demands for an explanation. In response, Reynolds said that there were “some unexpected administrative complications.” In an email to me, Reynolds stated that he was unable to provide any additional information.