Vets: Burn pits are killing us
Editor's note: Second in a three-part series
Combat had changed him.
Yet Andrew Rounds was still the adoring son his mother had sent off to war. He was still the hard worker who had helped her deliver newspapers after school. He was still the amiable soul who knew the names of everyone in the tiny village of Waterloo, Ore., from the mayor to the man who lived under the narrow bridge that crosses the river on the east side of town.
And he was home. That's all Lisa Rounds needed to know. After a year at war in Iraq, her son was safe.
Then his headaches began.
Then his sight went blurry.
Then he began to cough up blood.
Then he collapsed on the floor of his
Lisa Rounds shows the locket containing ashes from her son, Andrew Rounds, in front of the memorial wall in her Waterloo, Ore., home. Andrew died at age 22 after returning from Iraq and being diagnosed with leukemia. "Nov. 11 is his birthday, which is Veteran's Day," she said. "It seems so fitting now." (Beth Buglione / Special to the Tribune)parents' home.
By the time it was diagnosed, Andrew Rounds' leukemia had progressed so far that doctors didn't figure he'd last more than a few weeks. Ever the soldier, he fought on for nine months.
But the nation for which he had gone to war did not fight by his side.
From the testing of chemical and biological weapons on soldiers and some civilians during the Cold War, to the vast use of toxic herbicides such as Agent Orange in Vietnam, to the unexplained illnesses suffered by veterans of the first war in Iraq, military service has sickened generation after generation of U.S. service members.
But when confronted with ill and dying veterans, the nation's military leaders have turned to a time-honored tradition: denial.
The dismissals are sometimes followed -- years and even decades later -- by acknowledgment that an ailment was linked to military service and belated offers of care and compensation. But for many veterans and their families, the help comes far too late.
Now, responding to a new generation of sick and dying veterans, government leaders say they've learned from past mistakes. "My interest is how do we change what has been the 40-year journey of Agent Orange,
The Balad Air Base burn pit lights up the night in 2006. (Marshall Thompso)the 20-year journey of Gulf War Illness," Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said in 2009.
But acknowledging the problem may be the easy part. Changing history won't be.
Government waits for proof - sometimes for decades - before caring for sick veterans
Editor's note: First in a three-part series.
In Vietnam, Jim Ogden flew through clouds of Agent Orange. In Desert Storm, he hovered past burning oil fields. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, he worked near a thick black plume of burning plastic, metals, chemicals and medical waste.
Along the way he took injection after injection and swallowed pill after pill. He breathed in herbicides and pesticides. And he never questioned whether all of those drugs, toxins and poisons might someday do him harm.
Not until he lost his eyesight.
Now the former Marine and master helicopter mechanic can't help but wonder what, if anything, was to blame.
Though often in unintended and unexpected
Jim Ogden likes to spend time in his basement among the memorabilia of his career working with helicopters in hot spots around the world. Shortly after his last stint of service as a civilian helicopter mechanic in Iraq, Ogden became blind. Without a way to prove that his blindness is related to his military service, he isn't eligible for veteran's benefits. (Trent Nelson / The Salt Lake Tribune)ways, military service has sickened generations of U.S. service members. But the only way for veterans to ensure medical care and compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs is to prove that their illnesses are "service-connected." But the complexity of linking myriad mysterious ailments to military service -- and the budgetary burden of caring for millions of sick and dying veterans -- limits the number of veterans that the VA can help.
Thirty-five years after the end of the Vietnam War, the VA is still slowly adding to the list of conditions recognized as related to Agent Orange exposure. And nearly 20 years after the first U.S. war in Iraq, the VA still doesn't recognize Gulf War Illness as a diagnosis worthy of care or compensation -- even as a federal commission has determined the condition is real and affects tens of thousands of veterans.
That's to say nothing of veterans, like Ogden, who don't know how they got sick.
Meanwhile, military and political leaders have failed to heed lessons from past wars that could help identify mysterious illnesses.
Officials just now recognizing Agent Orange exposures
When he returned from Vietnam, James Randazzo figured himself fortunate.
"I came home alive," said the 60-year-old Utahn, whose service included more than two years north of Da Nang and demolition missions into North Vietnam. "That's plenty more than many others can say."
About a decade after returning home, Randazzo arrived at a Veterans Affairs hospital covered in pus-filled boils and red lesions. His skin was rusty orange. He itched all over.
"The people at the VA, they didn't even want to touch me," Randazzo said. "It was like they were afraid they would catch it."
No one could tell him what he had, or how he got it. Decades later, the condition still comes and goes -- and the Tooele resident still doesn't know why.
It took decades of research and political pressure before the federal government began recognizing certain medical conditions were related to Agent Orange exposure. Early this year, an order from Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will take effect, permitting Vietnam veterans with certain types of heart disease, leukemia and Parkinson's disease to access additional care and disability payments.
Over the past 40 years, according to VA records, about 86,000 veterans who suffered from these conditions were denied benefits. Some will now collect retroactive compensation. Many others have already died.
Vets say toxic tests sickened them; government says prove it
Editor's note: Third in a three-part series.
Even those who know the area best won't step far off the narrow, muddy road that runs through the center of the desolate toxic dump at Utah's Deseret Chemical Depot.
It's been more than 30 years since the U.S. Army used this vast scrubland, known as the East Demilitarization Area, to dispose of a deadly arsenal of chemical and conventional munitions -- but the military still hasn't figured out how to clean up its mess.
The Defense Department does acknowledge the disaster, just as it has belatedly admitted having tested a gamut of chemical and biological weapons on military members in Utah's vast west desert during the Cold War. But the U.S.
Artillery shells rest and rust in a toxic dump in Tooele County. The U.S. military is trying to identify and mitigate the ecological problems left over from the Cold War. From 1945 to the 1970s, munitions and chemicals were disposed of in open trenches. The military doesn't know how it will clean up the dump and officials say it could take many decades. (Al Hartmann / The Salt Lake Tribune )government insists that the tests have contributed to long-term illnesses in only a handful of exposed service members. And that has led the Department of Veterans Affairs to deny almost all claims for care and compensation made by those who believe they got sick as a result of the tests.
Although the Cold War was fought mainly by proxy and politicians, it was not without its casualties: Many died while waiting on the military to so much as acknowledge its secret programs.
Now, Dwight Bunn fears he might also slip away before the government takes responsibility for its actions.
The former soldier is sick. And he wants to know why.
'Don't worry, this stuff won't hurt you.' »Bunn was 21 years old when he arrived at Dugway Proving Ground, just over the snow-dusted hills from the Deseret demilitarization dump, in Tooele County. The official mission of his unit, the 45th Chemical Company, was to create smoke screens for infantry assaults. But in the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, the Army had other uses for the group.
Among the company's secretive duties: Helping to dispose of the carcasses of animals used in chemical weapons tests.
David Davidson, an Army veteran, can't say definitively that he was sickened by his exposure to mass destruction munitions at Dugway -- but he can't say he wasn't either. The West Haven man now must undergo four hours of kidney dialysis three times a week. (Al Hartmann / The Salt Lake Tribune )in the 1940s and continuing through the 1970s, the Army tested and disposed of thousands of tons of chemical and biological agents in sparsely populated Utah, including munitions loaded with sarin, VX, mustard, tabun and various hallucinogens.
Most all of you know my history I am one of the "test vets" of Edgewood Arsenal, there were 7120 of us who were used in the Cold War experiments, using all of the above named chemicals and about 250 more unnamed ones. If they won't tell the veterans what was used how are we supposed to believe that all the substances were safe? There are "double blind" experiments that no one knows who was used in them unless the government unseals the data and once they do that they can no longer use the data for future studies they are doing, so in a way they are still using some of us as test subjects and refusing to inform all of the veterans, all of the substances they were exposed to, yes they have confirmed the known test substances to the veterans, but what about the so called "blind studies"?
Monday, January 18, 2010
Vets: Burn pits are killing us