Veterans Administration Burn Pits Study is Inconclusive

Beth again featured in article on VA study on Burn PitsA study on the long-term effects of burn pits on the health of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has come back “inconclusive”. This is a study that we had hoped would have provided the VA with guidelines enabling Beth to receive disability compensation through the VA. She hasn’t been able to work for five months, and with the upcoming bone marrow transplant procedure, she’ll most likely continue to be out of work for many more months.

Beth qualifies for health care benefits through the VA, but having this illness rated as a “service-related” illness would have ramifications in case Beth does not survive this procedure (according to her doctor, she has “less than a 50 percent chance of recovery” because of immediate and longer-term effects, though this is “the only curative option” for the type of leukemia that she has), in the form of disability benefits now, and survivor benefits for the kids and me.

We have a scheduled intake appointment in a few weeks with the VA. Beth is already receiving very good care for this illness through my employer’s health care benefits. We are very near to the point at which we can select a donor for a potential bone marrow transplant procedure, which “the only curative option” for her.

Last week, she spent most of the week in the hospital, receiving IV antibiotics treatments for infections related to her impaired immunities. All of her blood levels – hemoglobin, white blood cells, and platelets, are at low and critically low levels from Vidaza treatments she is receiving. So far, three individuals have qualified as stem cell donors. We’re hoping to select a donor this week and establish a schedule for a transplant.

We’ve continued to try to raise money. We’ve set up a Facebook-based fundraising tool, which you can easily send, share on your own page, like, or tweet, and we hope you would help us with this in any way you can.

We’re also receiving a great deal of help and care from our church, and other sources.

Weekend news

We took a drive out to Hollidaysburg on Sunday to visit with my cousin Debbie. The weather and the views and the trees were just magnificent, and Debbie’s cooking was wonderful as well. (Her husband Walt recently passed away; the plan was that we would buy her dinner, but she, being the “home team”, had the advantage, and she cooked us a magnificent dinner of ham and lasagna and a zucchini casserole.

We also had a chance to talk with Bill Zlatos again, the Tribune Review reporter who wrote the article on Bethany and the “burn pits” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bill is interested in following Bethany’s treatment through her transplant and recovery, and so we’ll hope to have more articles and photos down the line.

Beth had transfusions of two more pints of blood on Friday; she has been having recurring headaches; she slept all day Saturday. Sunday she was feeling pretty well. We just have to take things day by day.

And finally, over the weekend, I worked on (and posted this morning) an article discussing why it seems more than plausible to me that the “pursuit of authority” in the ancient Roman church, caused that church to lose its focus on some very important things.

Bethany featured in Trib article on burn pits

Bethany was featured in an article this morning on the burn pits that have been standard operating procedure for getting rid of waste in war zones by the U.S. military for the last decade. Soldiers who have been in the vicinity of these burn pits have come down with all sorts of illnesses, including leukemia.

The comparison is made for these “burn pits” as being something like the “Agent Orange” of this generation of soldiers. There is in fact an extensive class action lawsuit being filed not against the military (whose standard policy this is), but against Kellogg, Brown, & Root and Halliburton, the government contractors which became responsible for operating the burn pits. (I don’t believe my wife will be eligible to be part of the lawsuit; she was in Iraq from April-October 2003, which was prior to Halliburton’s arrival there). But as the article notes:

The Department of Veterans Affairs has commissioned the Institute of Medicine to conduct a study for release this fall to determine whether Bugay’s cancer and the illnesses of perhaps thousands of other veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are linked to exposure to the burn pits. If so, that would make them eligible for disability benefits from the VA. About 2.2 million members of the military have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.

There are more photos here showing showing some of Bethany’s service, and her exposure to the burn pits; I’ve outlined her illness and treatment in recent blog posts.

Click here to go to the article

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).