Burn Pits – Where There’s Smoke, There’s . . .
One Woman’s Opinion
By – Sheri de Grom
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are the most identified chronic diseases of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now, after ten years of intense battle with the Veterans Administration, Congress, and the National Institute of Health, a third chronic debilitating illness has been officially recognized as compensable: Chronic Multisymptom Illness (CMI).
As with PTSD and TBI, CMI involves a wide variety of symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose. However years of research has pinpointed a common denominator in a service member’s life: suffers have served one or more deployments to Iraq and/or Afghanistan—and lived and worked near an open burn pit.
The result: it was impossible for suffers to not breathe the toxic fumes. This problem is an ongoing issue. The military had yet to develop other methods for destroying waste.
Chronic Multisymptom Illness—formerly known as Gulf War Syndrome—is diagnosable with symptoms in at least two of the following six categories: fatigue, mood and congestion issues, musculoskeletal problems, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory difficulties and neurological issues that last for at least six months.
It’s common for suffers of CMI to have severe tremors, memory lapses, tuberculosis, dysentery, acid reflex, nerve problems causing debilitating night sweats, early on-set Parkinson’s disease, balance issues and various fatal cancers.
There’s no-one-size-fits-all treatment approach. Individualized health care management plans are required for appropriate treatment. It became impossible to dispense pills and send a veteran on their way. (The VA prefers medication therapy to all other forms of medical management).
The scope of burn pits and the number of military and civilian personnel potentially affected wasn’t documented prior to 2010. The General Accounting Office found it difficult to determine the number of burn pits at any given time.
It’s reported every service member contributes ten pounds of personal waste per day. Add in the daily operations of a military installation, and burn pits might include every type of waste imaginable.
A civil lawsuit against civilian contractor KBR, Inc., of Houston, Texas, formerly a wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton, lists the following materials as being included in burn pits: . . . “trucks, tires, lithium batteries, Styrofoam, paper, wood, rubber, petroleum-oil-lubricating products, metals, munitions boxes, medical waste, biohazard materials (including human corpses), medical supplies (including those used during smallpox inoculations), paints, solvents, asbestos, insulations, items containing pesticides . . .” All of these are burned by lighting them with gasoline.
Veterans often tell of a dust-like film falling from the sky. It adheres to their skin and gets in their drinking water. They see it on the plates on which they eat. The clinging film of filth is everywhere 24/7.
KBR is paid by the Department of the Army to operate and maintain the burn pits. The complaints of the civil lawsuit spell out that KBR as a civilian company, is held to the same operating principles as the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program or (LCAP). The programs rules for operating burn pits are clear, and it states human health is the paramount operating principle.
KBR argues that, as an agent of the government, they only have to maintain the burn pits to the same standard as the Department of Defense (DoD).
I haven’t read the contract between the DoD and KBR but I’m certain the written expectation is for all burn pits to be maintained as required by LCAP. If the DoD had wanted to continue with the status quo, they wouldn’t have contracted out the daily operation of the burn pits.
The DoD recognized that managing waste had grown to a problem larger than they were capable of controlling. Though the government contracts are routinely awarded to the lowest bidder, all subsequent guidelines are expected to be in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
Even if the courts disallow the legal suit against KBR, the lawsuit has caught the attention of Congress and led to government limits on burn pits.
I know the weariness the soldiers and their family members are experiencing. I suffer from many of the same symptoms, not from living near a burn pit, but as the result of a traffic accident. You may read about it here .
As a result of the accident, my medical record grew from a few pages to several volumes. Suddenly I was symptomatic, the same as someone with CMI, yet no one could connect the dots.
It’s infuriating when this happens. You know something is seriously wrong with your body, but the best medical minds in the country are unable to tell you what’s happening. You know your body is deteriorating faster than anticipated for your age group. Some doctors have looked me in the eye and simply said, I don’t know why.
I can relate to the memory lapses and the inability to feel anything below my knees due to neuropathy. This lack of feeling leads to additional problems with balance control. I never know where my feet are. The simple act of standing up often leaves me dizzy, the same as our veterans.
As veterans age, their symptoms will only exacerbate. This additional population will be entitled to more care from our already exploding Veterans health care system.