Thursday, January 26, 2012

Burn Pits destroy lives, does the government care?

Earlier this month, Wyatt Olson (Stars and Stripes) reported, "The Marine Corps is now testing a compact disposal system that turns a barrel full of trash into a handful of ash through gasification, all without harmful air emissions associated with incinerators. Initial testing is at Camp Smith on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, with field testing expected this summer during training exercises." Good if it works without side effects. Bad otherwise. Burn pits have side effects. They have left many service members and veterans and contractors with breathing ailments, they've also led to worse than just that, including death.


2011 saw an attempt by the federal government to utilize scientists already on the government payroll (directly or research grants) to argue that burn pits weren't so bad. Of course, despite ethical guidelines in place, the scientists participating 'forgot' to disclose their government payments.

Many American families know just how damaging burn pits are. They don't enjoy the luxury of cushy research grants, they're too busy fighting for their loved ones health and lives.

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:

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].

In addition, the first ever Burn Pit Symposium takes place next month.

1st Annual Scientific Symposium on
Lung Health after Deplyoment to Iraq & Afghanistan
February 13, 2012

sponsored by
Office of Continuing Medical Education
School of Medicine
Stony Brook University

Health Sciences Center, Level 3, Lecture Hall 5
Anthony M. Szema, M.D., Program Chair
Stony Brook
Medical Center

This program is made possible by support from the
Sergeant Thomas Joseph Sullivan Center, Washington, D.C.


* Register with your credit card online at:

* Download the registration form from:
fax form to (631) 638-1211

For Information Email:

1st Annual Scientific Symposium on
Lung Health after Deployment to Iraq & Afghanistan
Monday, February 13, 2012
Health Sciences Center
Level 3, Lecture Hall 5

Program Objective: Upon completion, participants should be able to recognize new-onset of lung disease after deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

8:00 - 9:00 a.m. Registration & Continental Breakfast (Honored Guest, Congressman
Tim Bishop

9:00 - 9:30 Peter Sullivan, J.D., Father of Marine from The Sergeant Thomas Joseph
Sullivan Center, Washington, D.C.

9:40 - 10:10 Overview of Exposures in Iraq, Anthony Szema, M.D., (Assistant
Professor of Medicine and Surgery, Stony Brook University)

10:10 - 10:40 Constrictive Bronchiolitis among Soldiers after Deployment, Matt
King, M.D. (Assistant Professor of Medicine, Meharry Medical College,
Nashville, TN)

10:40 - 11:10 BREAK

11:10 - 11:40 Denver Working Group Recommendations and Spirometry Study in
Iraq/Afghanistan, Richard Meehan, M.D., (Chief of Rheumatology and
Professor of Medicine, National Jewish Health, Denver, CO)

11:40 a.m. - Microbiological Analyses of Dust from Iraq and Afghanistan, Captain Mark

12:10 p.m. Lyles, D.M.D., Ph. D., (Vice Admiral Joel T. Boone Endowed Chair of
Health and Security Studies, U.S. Naval War College, Newport, RI)

12:10 - 12:20 Health Care Resource Utilization among Deployed Veterans at the White
River Junction VA, James Geiling, M.D., (Professor and Chief of Medicine,
Dartmouth Medical School, VA White River Junction, VT)

Graduate students Millicent Schmidt and Andrea Harrington (Stony Brook
University) present Posters from Lung Studies Analyzed for Spatial
Resolution of Metals at Brookhaven National Laboratory's National
Synchrotron Light Source

1:20 - 1:40 Epidemiologic Survey Instrument on Exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan,
Joseph Abraham, Sc.D., Ph.D., (U.S. Army Public Health Command,
Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD)

1:40 - 2:10 Overview of the Issue Raised during Roundtable on Pulmonary Issues
and Deployment, Coleen Baird, M.D., M.P.H., (Program Manager
Environmental Medicine, U.S. Army Public Health Command)

2:10 - 2: 40 Reactive Oxygen Species from Iraqi Dust, Martin Schoonen, Ph.D.
(Director Sustainability Studies and Professor of Geochemistry, Stony
Brook University)

2:40 - 2:50 BREAK

2:50 - 3:15 Dust Wind Tunnel Studies, Terrence Sobecki, Ph.D. (Chief Environmental
Studies Branch, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research
and Engineering Laboratory, Manchester, NH)

3:15 - 3:45 Toxicologically Relevant Characteristics of Desert Dust and Other
Atmospheric Particulate Matter, Geoffrey S. Plumlee, Ph.D. (Research
Geochemist, U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, CO)

3:44 - 4:15 In-situ Mineralogy of the Lung and Lymph Nodes, Gregory Meeker, M.S.
(Research Geochemist, U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, CO)

Continuing Medical Education Credits

The school of Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brook, is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
The School of Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brooke designates this live activity for a maximum of 6 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)TM. Physicians should only claim the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

We'll return to this topic in the snapshot and I'll offer comments about Senator Jim Webb (hisses) on this topic but this morning, let's focus on the story Rosie Torres was brave enough to open her heart and share in the hopes that it helps others. (Her story above will appear in full in the snapshot today.) Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee which has just released their updated hearing schedule:

Committee on Veterans' Affairs
United States Senate
112th Congress, Second Session
Hearing Schedule
Update: January 25, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 2:30 pm 345 Cannon HOB
Joint Hearing: Legislative Presentation of the Disabled American Veterans

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 10 am SR-418
Hearing: The Fiscal Year 2013 Budget for Veterans' Programs

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 10 am SDG-50
Joint Hearing: Legislative Presentation of the Veternas of Foreign Wars

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 10 am SR-418
Hearing: Ending Homelessness Among Veterans: VA's Progress on its 5 Year Plan

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 10 am SDG-50
Joint Hearing :Legislative Presentation of the MIlitary Order of the Purple Heart, IAVA, Non Commissioned Officers Association, American Ex-Prisoners of War, Vietnam Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, and The Retired Enlisted Association

Thursday, March 22, 2012 10 am 345 Cannon HOB
Joint Hearing: Legislative Presentation of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Air Force Sergeants Association, Blinded Veterans Association, AMVETS, Gold Star Wives, Fleet Reserve Association, Military Officers Association of America and the Jewish War Veterans

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 10 am SR-418
Nomination Hearing: Nomination of Margaret Bartley to be Judge of United States Court of Veterans Appeals for Veterans Claims and Coral Wong Pietsch to be Judge of United States Court of Veterans Appeals for Veterans Claims

Matthew T. Lawrence
Chief Clerk/System Administrator
Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

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