VA researcher quits over burn pit studies

This burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq, was in full operation in 2008.


By RANDAL YAKEY | The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. | Published: May 19, 2013

PANAMA CITY — Steven Coughlin had enough. He packed up and left D.C.

Coughlin was a research epidemiologist who was working on behalf of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. When he found the impact of burn pits on veterans was going to be left out of a study he was working on, he quit, packed his bags and moved out West.

“I just couldn’t go along with what they were doing,” Coughlin said.  

In a series of emails between him and his boss, Aaron Scheniederman, that were obtained by The News Herald, the two clashed over what was being released and what was being held back from public view.

“There were areas of this study that were completely ignored,” said Coughlin, who resigned after he was told to ignore information regarding burn pits in the Middle East.

Coughlin said anything that linked the burn pits to lung problems in military personnel was to be left out of the study.

“My direct supervisor, Aaron Scheniederman, told me to ignore information on asthma or bronchitis,” Coughlin said.

Coughlin said he was harassed and threatened with repercussions to his professional career if he continued to push for the burn pit impact to service members be added to the study.

Coughlin said his information shows as many as 30,000 veterans of the conflicts in the Middle East suffered health effects from burn pits.

The VA issued a statement regarding Coughlin’s allegations: “The department depends on this research to inform our decisions and guide our efforts in caring for Gulf War Veterans. All allegations of malfeasance are taken seriously and are investigated fully.

“The secretary has directed the Office of Research Oversight to review the allegations and report their findings. VA is precluded by the Privacy Act from discussing personnel matters concerning individual employees.”

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