Burn Pits and the health effects on soldiers

From the Talil Air Base, Iraq, 2003
Yesterday someone sent me a link to the website of an attorney who’s been following “burn pit” stories and activities, and keeping an updated collection of burn pit claims in the news. There, I found a link to an official Department of Veterans Affairs document which outlines, among other things “guidance on handling claims for disabilities potentially resulting from exposure to environmental hazards while on active duty.” I was heartened to see, in this document, the weight to be assigned to the Veteran’s own testimony about his or her illness:

Because scientific studies regarding health effects from exposures are in the preliminary stages, raters should carefully review the nature, dates, and locations of the Veteran’s military service, and apply the law under a broad and liberal manner, consistent with all available facts and circumstances. Claims should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with evidentiary weight given to medical examinations and opinions from both private and VA physicians. In all cases, the benefit of the doubt shall be given to the Veteran.

The VA has also put up a burn pit website. The photo here is from the “officially unclassified” account that was published by the 203rd MI BN’s own account of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Beth says that there were probably “dozens” of these burn pit barrels burning at any given time. It’s hard to avoid exposure on a day to day basis, much less avoiding exposure when you’re working on these things.

This photo was taken at the Talil Air Base, Iraq (now is Ali Air Base). It’s been officially released by the 203rd MI BN in their unclassified (CD .ppt) account of Operation Iraqi Freedom, November 2002-November 2003. Beth also was located at the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), Iraq, and she did quite a bit of running in Northern Iraq, around Mosul. (She was nearby when Saddam’s sons were killed in a gunfight).

Three reasons why I’m writing this journal

1. We want to persuade the press, the VA, the military, the federal government, that there are consequences to the military’s policies. Even the little ones.

  • In March 2003 Bethany completed the Army’s “Field Sanitation Course” (see image below).
  • In May 2003, especially, when Beth was part of an advance group, she was heavily involved with “burning trash and human waste”, shown in the photos below.
  • She wrote about it in a letter dated March 14, the scan of the hand-written page.
  • This activity, “burning diesel fuel” is known to produce the chemical Benzene.
  • Benzene is a known human carcinogen. And, being directly involved with this activity, Bethany was heavily exposed to the benzene that was produced.
  • Thus, we hope to persuade that, because of the U.S. Army’s official policies, Bethany was exposed to Benzene in large enough quantities that it is clearly identifiable that these incidents are the cause of her current cancer (leukemia), as well as similar ailments in other soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

2. Beyond persuading the official parties listed above of the sequence of events listed above, we hope to reach a wide and sympathetic audience, and persuade them that we continue to need financial help as we work through this time in preparation of a bone marrow transplant.

3. We want to tell a compelling story of a family’s struggles through this past decade when it was said that “9/11 changed everything.”

Beth was trained for "burn pit" activity
Burning trash and human waste
Describing the activity in a letter, dated May 14, 2003

More photos are here:

Please share this information. Hover over the “share” button just below this paragraph. You’ll see the various ways in which you can share this message with others. If anyone knows of other soldiers who have come down with leukemia because of burn pit activities, we’d love to know that story. We’d love the opportunity to put our voices together and tell a larger story. We’d love to make certain that this story gets the kind of publicity that it deserves.

It’s going to be a busy week

It’s going to be a busy week for us. Beth has a doctor’s appointment today and our big “intake meeting” with the transplant folks tomorrow. I expect that we’ll learn what treatment is going to be like for the coming months, the status or our donor search, maybe get some clarifications on the diagnosis and prognosis, and a lot more. Meanwhile, Beth begins Vidaza, Cycle 3 this week as well.

Beth had a pretty good weekend; we visited my cousin Walt, who is also a veteran; he recently had heart bypass surgery, and he gave us a pretty good report about how to navigate the VA system. There’s one difference: he’s a Vietnam veteran, and much of what the VA will cover from that conflict is settled; we are still waiting on a study by the VA on the topic of the “Long-term Health Consequences of Exposure to Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan”. Stay tuned.

The car situation is going to be much complicated from here out, as the older guys start school today; two of them will begin the CCAC Nursing School program, and a third is starting general studies there as well. There are five of us going different places, and three cars. The younger kids start school next week. Fortunately, recent changes in the school bus schedules don’t seem to have affected us.