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Supreme Court declines to hear case about toxic burn pits on military bases overseas

Supreme Court declines to hear case about toxic burn pits on military bases overseas


JUDY WOODRUFF: Last night, the U.S. Supreme
Court rejected an appeal in a case in which veterans sought to sue private military defense
contractors for allegedly making them sick by burning toxic materials and garbage of
all kinds in war zones. Hari Sreenivasan has an update to our original
story. LT. COL. RICK LAMBERTH, (RET.), U.S. Army: You have
to breath, or you die. And, sometimes, even the soot would fly out
of the burn pits and get on your uniform or on your vehicle. HARI SREENIVASAN: Retired Lieutenant Colonel
Rick Lamberth served a number of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. And besides fighting a war, he was fighting
to breath. MAN: That is what we live next to. HARI SREENIVASAN: Throughout both Iraq and
Afghanistan, the American operations there burned thousands of tons of trash and material
over the years. And for the past decade, veterans of those
wars have sued a number of major defense contractors, including KBR, for the way they disposed of
garbage on military bases. All kinds of things went up in smoke, including
items that are toxic when burned, such as batteries, paint, solvents, and tires, plastic
water bottles, styrofoam, and shipping materials such as plastic wrap. We spoke to Lamberth four years ago. He told us exposure to burn pits smoke caused
lung ailments that forced him to use inhalers. LT. COL. RICK LAMBERTH: I no longer can hold out to
run. I don’t have the stamina. At one time, I could go run five or 6.5 miles
at a time, a 10k at a time. A lot of times even during the day, I cough
and people look at me like I’m a smoker. And I have a lot of phlegm and a lot of mucus
from it. Sometimes, it’s embarrassing. HARI SREENIVASAN: Hundreds of thousands of
veterans who served in these wars were exposed to this kind of smoke because it permeated
the bases where they lived. Starting in 2008, veterans began filing lawsuits. Last year, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals sided with the defense contractor KBR and the Defense Department. The court said it had no jurisdiction to rule
on the case and that KBR was acting under the orders of the U.S. military. Last night, the U.S. Supreme Court announced
it would not take up the case, which has 800 named plaintiffs filed in 60 cases. They will now have no further legal recourse. We spoke to Rick Lamberth today. LT. COL. RICK LAMBERTH: My reaction to hearing that
the Supreme Court had denied the case about the burn pits, it was upsetting, disconcerting. The system and the politicians just sacrificed
the veterans again. It’s just a modern-day equivalent to Agent
Orange. And they’re going to wait until the maximum
number of veterans die off. HARI SREENIVASAN: KBR, on the other hand,
issued a statement, saying: “The Supreme Court made the correct decision, and we are pleased
that this legacy case has reached final resolution.” And they said the courts confirmed that — quote
— “The U.S. military made all the key decisions regarding waste management in the war zone. As KBR has consistently stated, the limited
number of burn pits operated by KBR were operated at the direction and under the control of
the U.S. military.” Veteran activists say they will now ask Congress
to pass legislation to provide medical and financial assistance to those whose lives
have been injured from exposure to burn pit smoke. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Hari Sreenivasan.


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