Iraq and Afghanistan Burn Pits

Advocating for the Damaging Effects

As I sat down at lunch with a family from Corpus Christi, I didn’t see any wounds from war. I saw no burns. I saw no amputated legs or missing fingers. I saw none of the signs of PTS that the media lectures us on day-in and day-out.

I did however, see a husband and wife. Leroy was relatively quiet and only spoke when spoken to first. His wife, Rosie, had a quiet peace about her, yet voiced more passion and intelligence than I have ever seen. What could this woman, with a seemingly fine husband, be so passionate and educated about? What could she have in her overflowing file folder of documents, articles, testimonials and official memorandums from our United States government?

Leroy was exposed to the Iraqi Crud, while stationed in Balad, Iraq- Home to one of the largest military burn pits.  A growing number of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are becoming sick and dying from what appears to be overexposure to dangerous toxins produced by burn pits, which are used to destroy waste.

“Open-air burn pits have operated widely at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the Department of Veterans Affairs notes on its website.  On military bases across the two countries, US military and contractors have been exposed to hazardous wastes… Over 227 metric tons of trash is being burned daily. The hazardous wastes included solvents, batteries, tires, plastics, human and medical waste, unused pharmaceuticals, formaldehyde, arsenic (just to name a few) and jet fuel used as an accelerant.

Symptoms from burn pit expose include constrictive bronchiolitis, brain lesions, Parkinson’s, headaches, memory loss, gall bladder removal, abdominal pain, skin lesions, skin cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and colon cancer, to name a few.

These victims face a lack of access to specialized healthcare, denial of compensation and pension claims specific to toxic exposure and excessive health care costs. Many of these families are financially, emotionally and physically broken.

As a Dallas resident, I know we would never allow poisons and contaminants to be burnt within our community. Would you allow 100 tons of battery and human waste to be burnt by jet fuel near your home or work? We must make our community aware of these issues being faced by our returning service members. We talk all day about post-traumatic stress, but what about the non-sexy issues our service members face when they come home?

We need to gain legislative support for the National Burn Pit Registry Act, develop legislation for compensation for those suffering from toxic exposures and expand specialized health care models through the DoD and VA which are specific to this exposure.

As a community, we must make our veterans, service members and families aware of these issues and symptoms. We must encourage them to visit www.burnpits360.org and register their stories.  Speak up.  One recurring symptom in you may be a recurring symptom in another husband, wife, and hundreds others- The puzzle cannot be put together if our advocates don’t know what pieces exist.

In a letter written by Rosie, she says, “As I watch my husband deteriorate before my eyes, I wonder what happened to that Captain that stood tall and strong, the father that ran two miles twice a week with his boys, the state police officer that served on the tactical squad, and the husband that could run circles around me. Instead he is now a patient of doctors from every specialty- pulmonary, neurology, gastroenterology and infectious disease… How can this be possible? The toxic exposures from the burn pits from war happened to our lives and to thousands of other coming home. It’s only a matter of time.”

Watch a short video

View letter from Rosie Torres