Thursday, January 26, 2012

The battle of the speakers comes to a close




The Pentagon's US death toll for the Iraq War stands at 4487. That number doesn't include Staff Sgt Danielle Nienajadlo. Her service in Iraq included Balad Air Base. As Beth Hawkins (Mother Jones) reported two years ago, Danielle Nienajadlo quickly began suffering "headaches that kept her awake; unexplained bruises all over her body; an open sore on her back that wouldn't heal; vomiting and weight loss. In July 2008, after three miserable months, Nienajadlo checked into the base emergency room with a 104-degree fever." In a letter to Traveling Soldier in 2010, Danille's mother Lindsay Wiedman shared, "The Army still did not consider Danielle a Iraq casualty! And she was! Her very bosses that she went to while being very sick didn't believe her that she was sick. She suffered. SFC Addy was whom she went to and he said she was just trying to get out of Iraq! That was not who my daughter was. She valued her Army career, her family, me, her sister and would never not complete a hard days work. She could work Addy! Danielle died on the 20th. She would have completed her chemo the 21st. They were trying to get her to the stage of stem cell transplant. I miss her and am grieving! I blame Addy and Balad, Iraq. And I believe she should should have been considered a casualty! She deserved a big medal and the honors worth so more! I pray with time that Addy and her other bosses realize they helped kill my daughter." Along with her mother, BURNPITS 360 31-year-old Danielle's survivors include "3 sons Isaiah and Ian Jones and Titan Sanchez and her husband Jamie Nienajadlo." They note that on their Our Fallen Heroes page which also notes Ssg Steven Ochs -- dead at 32, Major Kevin E. Wilkins -- dead at 2, survived by wife Jill Wilkins and three children, Sgt Billy McKenna -- survived by wife Dine McKenna and their two daughters, and Jessica Sweet. Jeff Glor (CBS Evening News -- link is text and video) reported in June 2010, "Christopher Sweet blames his wife's leukemia on the burn pits she was exposed to in Afghanistan. Diagnosed in September 2008, Jessica Sweet died five months later." Sadly, it's very unlikely that those five will be the last.
Former-Senator Byron Dorgan explained November 6, 2009 when he chaired a Democratic Policy Committee hearing on burn pits, "Today we're going to have a discussion and have a hearing on how, as early as 2002, US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan began relying on open-air burn pits -- disposing of waste materials in a very dangerous manner. And those burn pits included materials such as hazardous waste, medical waste, virtually all of the waste without segregation of the waste, put in burn pits. We'll hear how there were dire health warnings by Air Force officials about the dangers of burn pit smoke, the toxicity of that smoke, the danger for human health. We'll hear how the Department of Defense regulations in place said that burn pits should be used only in short-term emergency situations -- regulations that have now been codified. And we will hear how, despite all the warnings and all the regulations, the Army and the contractor in charge of this waste disposal, Kellogg Brown & Root, made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn pits and exposed thousands of US troops to toxic smoke." In addition, Disabled American Veterans notes:
In a 2006 memorandum to the Pentagon, Air Force Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, who was in charge of assessing environmental health hazards at Balad Air Base in Iraq, raised serious concerns about toxic exposures from burn pits.
The letter, which was signed by Lt. Col. James R. Elliott, the Air Force's chief medical officer at Balad, confirmed the environmental dangers that open air burn pits posed to the soldiers and airmen who lived on one of the largest U.S. installations in Iraq.

Iraq War veteran Captain Leroy Torres is one of many Americans who knows the destruction and damage burn pits cause. He and his wife Rosie Torres have worked very hard to get the word out. In an attempt to explain the realities of life post-burn pit and to spur government action, Rosie Torres shares the following:

The barriers faced by those affected by toxic exposure stem from the various components that define the word Toxic Exposures and Burn Pits. It's those same barriers that for thousands of reservists and their families have left them financially, emotionally, and mentally broken. Our story is far too familiar for those that have been affected, so here is our story. I am the wife of Captain Leroy Torres, prior to his deployment I was working full time for the Department Of Veteran Affairs and he served a dual role in his community as both a full time State Trooper for the State of Texas and a U.S. Army Reservist. Our salaries combined placed us comfortably in the bracket of about $90,000 a year, but all that changed the day he stepped foot onto the airbase in Balad, Iraq. Camp Anaconda, the FOB with the largest Burn Pit in existence, the place where all of our dreams and hopes turned into toxic chemicals. The same chemicals that followed us home and have haunted us for the past 3 years.

For thousands of reservists the story goes like this, the soldier returns from war and immediately the effects of toxic exposure surface like the invisible wounds that they are. The soldier begins seeking treatment at various healthcare facilities only to discover that neither DOD nor VA is acknowledging toxic exposure from particulate matter or burn pits. The only option left if you happen to be blessed with the luxury of private insurance is to seek specialized healthcare in the private sector. Desperately seeking answers to the question of why this once active and healthy soldier can no longer function at the capacity that he/she once did. Why the once healthy father/mother, husband, wife, daughter, son can no longer breathe, why the diagnosis of cancer, why the white matter and the lesions in the brain, the fertility issues, the fatigue, the parasitic infections, the list goes on and on. The family spends their life savings traveling to access specialized healthcare from the physicians they call their heroes. The only healthcare providers brave enough to stand behind the truth of how toxic chemicals affect the body.

The family exhausts all of their finances to gain answers, the soldier can no longer work due to multiple diagnosis and symptoms immediately forcing the once successful career person to give up their life-long dreams. The reservists files an LOD which can take up to two years, the veteran files a claim with the VA which will never grant a rating compensation because there is no category for toxic exposures. All of this forces the family into an abyss of darkness, mental stress, financial stress, and denial of acceptance to their new way of life. The once productive, healthy, and functioning military family is suddenly falling apart at the seams. The gap between VA and DOD for the reservist component of the military service members wounded must be bridged by identifying the needs of those affected immediately. Too many people are losing their homes, their life savings, and their hope, hope in a system that once promised to care for them once they returned.

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 2 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 but instead he is now a patient of doctors from every specialty, pulmonary, neurology, Gastroenterology, Infectious disease.

As I walked into the waiting room of the State Department of Human Services to ask for public assistance I thought to myself how can this be possible. What happened to the Captain's wife, to the once full time VA employee, why have we lost our medical tricare insurance for our children, why are we asking for help? My husband holds a masters degree and we are both educated professionals, what happened to our lives? The toxic exposures from the burn pits from war happened to our lives and to thousands of others coming home. It's only a matter of time.

The Torres family advocates for a national registry for the victims of burn pits and are active with BurnPits 360 (Rosie Torres is the executive director):

BurnPits360 is serving as a pathway of advocacy to assist veterans, their families, and civilian contractors who have been negatively affected by toxic burn pits. Contractors were assigned the task of properly disposing of any and all trash on military installations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations in the Middle East. Unfortunately, instead of using incinerators, the contractors disposed of the waste through toxic burn pits and now thousands of veterans have been put at serious risk.
BurnPits360 is inviting anyone that has been affected from exposure to toxic burn pits and environmental hazards to sign up on the registry. We are conducting a voluntary cohort anonymous study with Dr. Szema at Stony Brook University. The study simply requires self-reporting your information on the online registry, providing a proof of military service (DD-214), a signed legal consent form, and additional questionnaires. This study will help to provide vital information to doctors and researchers that will help properly diagnose and treat the vast array of medical complications arising from these exposures. It will provide the Department Of Defense and the Department Of Veteran Affairs with data that will allow them to develop a healthcare model for specialized healthcare specific to toxic exposures and environmental hazards.
The importance of this registry is to serve as a model for all military personnel, civilian contractors, and their families to self-report injuries and deaths from toxic exposure from burn pits and other environmental hazards. It will also assist in proving causation and the correlation between the exposure and the illness, as well as determine all areas of possible exposure. It will provide the VA with the data needed to develop legislative language for the development of a compensation and pension category specific to toxic exposures.
Most importantly, this study is completely anonymous. None of your personal information will be shared at any time. (In such cases where information would ever need to be made public, it would not be done so without the members written consent, whereas the veteran, contractor, and/or their family have the option to decline to participate at that time.)
Should you be interested in participating in the study, please contact Burn Pits 360 via email [] or by telephone [361-816-4015].
Daniel Meyer is a disabled veteran and activist alerting the country to the dangers of burn pits. Julie M. McKinnon (Toledo Blade) noted that Meyer attended the Statue of the Union speech Tuesay at the invitation of US House Rep Shelley Berkley who told the newspaper, "As a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Staff Sergeant Meyer proudly served our nation in time of war, and we salute his valor and recognize the bravery and sacrifice of all the men and women in America's armed forces, our veterans, and their families." Along with his work with BurnPit 360, he also makes a huge impact by sharing his story and raising issues and awareness at his website Daniel Meyer Despite the bravery he shows and the bravery of others, those suffering from burn pits repeatedly have to reinvent the wheel and re-educate the public and the Congress about the burn pits effects that they now live with, explain the need for a federal registry, explain the need for the VA to recognize and educate. The first Burn Pits Symposium takes place this month and we'll note that at the end of the snapshot.

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