BURN PITS – WHERE THERE’S SMOKE, THERE’S . . .

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) gif headacheare 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.

DoD Photo Credit

Soldier on Patrol Breathing Toxins From Burn Pit

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.

Wikipedia Photo Credit

Wikipedia Photo Credit

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.   

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About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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71 Responses to BURN PITS – WHERE THERE’S SMOKE, THERE’S . . .

  1. hi Sheri,
    You are so vital to us all…once again, a very needed, informative article. My nephew was sent to Iraq three times. He is in great suffering. I am going to send your post on to my sister. Thank you for all that you do to keep us informed on these health issues. You are appreciated!

  2. jbw0123 says:

    While we focus the news on Syria crossing a “red line” …

  3. Jane Sadek says:

    After a year of translating in Iraq, my husband came home with a cough and nasal issues he didn’t have when he headed over there. I’m sure it’s due to the same thing, but thankfully, he doesn’t have any of the other symptoms.

    • Jane – I’ll pray nothing else develops. Respiratory issues are common along with the fibromyalgia like symptoms. Medical issues can develop years later in soldiers. I don’t want to alarm you. You might just want to keep an eye on the issue if anything comes along.

  4. I was not aware of the “Burn Pits.” Thank you for bringing this to my attention as well as others.

  5. willowdot21 says:

    A heart renting post full of information and knowledge, thank you Sheri! xx

  6. prayingforoneday says:

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    One of the biggest forums on EARTH!!
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  7. prayingforoneday says:

    Go to the top of my Blog Page Sheri..(Contacts)
    If you have Facebook, email me your page. I will add it there also.
    You can say a little about it.

    More than welcome

    x

  8. prayingforoneday says:

    Reblogged this on Looking for reasoning to a complicated world and commented:
    From Sheri, really worth a read, please.. The burn pits are a terrible solution to an even worse problem. So many service members will be disabled for life as a result of these burn pits and a contractor not doing the job they are paid to do. Yes, the Department of Defense allowed the problem to go on far too long. But, once it was agreed upon that the military was in Afghanistan to fight the war and not manage waste, a contract was finally put in place. Fat cats are raking in billions at the expense of service members around the globe involved in the war in Afghanistan as well as those that fought in Iraq.

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  10. This is really important information and I’m glad you shared it. My son came back from Afghanistan in November. He is in the infantry and really doesn’t want to talk much about what happened to him over there. We know that he was shot at on more than one occasion, but that is about it. Some of his behavior, especially his drinking since he got back is a little concerning to his mother and I. We are chalking it up to blowing off steam and the fact that he is only 22, but I certainly hope that it is no more than that, especially anything like PTSD, TBI or CMI. Thank you again for sharing.

    • Dom – I so agree with you and your wife. We see more drinking with service members returning from Afghanistan and of course we know that often goes along with trying to close out the pain that haunts. A statistic you might want to keep an eye on is the high rate of auto accidents young returning soldiers are having. The rate is higher than at any time in history. Is your son a career soldier or is his time completed? I frequently blog on multiple military issues and unfortunately, many of them are not pretty. As an aside, many of the young macho soldiers I talk with don’t want to talk about their aching muscles and joints. They believe by working out at the gym the soreness will work its way out. Unfortunately, those aching joints and muscles are the first indication of CMI. Please, I don’t wish to alarm you. My hope is to simply share information I’ve had to dig deep to obtain on my own.

  11. prayingforoneday says:

    WOW..
    As said, eye opening blog!

    x

    • Shaun – Thank you for reading with me. I so appreciate your time. The burn pits are a terrible solution to an even worse problem. So many service members will be disabled for life as a result of these burn pits and a contractor not doing the job they are paid to do. Yes, the Department of Defense allowed the problem to go on far too long. But, once it was agreed upon that the military was in Afghanistan to fight the war and not manage waste, a contract was finally put in place. Fat cats are raking in billions at the expense of service members around the globe involved in the war in Afghanistan as well as those that fought in Iraq. I know you have a large following and have some influence in getting these messages out to a broader base abroad – even if by Twitter or Facebook.

  12. Thank you for educating us on something I did not know about. I am sorry, Sheri, that you have had unresolved health issues. The not knowing must be frustrating.

    Blessings ~ Wendy

    • Hello Wendy – I’ve just returned from my wildflower garden to find your lovely comment. Thank you for stopping by and reading with me. It never ceases to amaze me that the news media refuses to give the burn pit issue the space it deserves. Not only is it an environmental disaster, but our soldiers are facing a lifetime of medical problems, many of which will never be resolved. My own health issues are frustrating and I relate to many of the veterans I talk with as I have multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) the same as most of them.

  13. Deb says:

    I’ve never heard of CMI or burn pits before, Sherri! I see many haven’t either. I’m going to tweet. I hope it gets around to many.
    Thank you for sharing this!

    • Deb – Hello. I’m amazed and then again I’m not by the number of individuals that haven’t heard of the burn pits and CMI. The devestating outcome of the disease is often death as a result of developing cancers, lung and other resporitory infections, the pain of dealing with severe fibromyalgia and the list goes on and on. My personal thougoht is that it could also be responsible for many suicides. CMI like PTSD and TBI is often invisible to the human eye and the returning soldier may seem like he/she ‘should’ return to a normal civilian life. In my opinion, even without battle scars as obvious as an amputated limb, them men and women are often over looked until it’s too late.

  14. Carolyn Dekat says:

    War is horrendous. I wonder often how many other traumatic health effects are yet to be discovered. Or have been discovered, but are being kept under wraps. So very sad.

    • Hello Carolyn: Look at how long it took congress and the VA to recognize Desert Storm service members copensatory damages. I was working at Walter Reed Army Medcal Center in DC at the height of this bitter battle and spent a lot of time on the hill. You would have thought it was the Veterans Affairs, Congress, the Pentagon and DoD against thousands of veterans. For several years, the Desert Storm service members were caught in a catch-22. The VA said their symptoms weren’t service connected therefore the VA didn’t have to provide medical care (most were reservist and over 80% had no private health insurance) Those that did have private health insurance received medical care in the private sector. Once the VA and congress finally relented and agreed there were too many similiar cases reporting, the Gulf War Disability Claims began processing. Placing a further hardship on the service member, private health insurance companies said the soldiers now had to pay them back for the claims they had paid on behalf of the policy holder because the VA was ultimately responsible. These accounts are still in dispute and several veterans lost their homes and were left no choice but to take bankruptcy.

  15. I was stunned as I read this Sheri. Having never heard of CMI or burn pits, it is hard to believe that something so serious and so debilitating could be covered up. Thank you for raising this issue (which I’m sure is also an issue that affects UK soldiers, but again is hushed up).
    I do hope that you too find recovery and healing.

    • Carolyn – Thank you so much for stopping in to read with me. I stumbled upon the burn pits when I was investigating the issue of our veterans not being allowed therapy dogs through the Veterans Administration for PTSD and TBI. Once I started investigating this injustice, one thing led to the next. Many of these same veterans have multiple unexplained symptoms (or they seemed unexplained until the issue of the toxic levels of the Burn Pits were explored). The symptoms of CMI are all over the chart and no two patients experience the exact same issues. Many of the symptoms are so severe, they are life threatening. Others make lives intolerable to the point where the veteran no longer remembers the person he/she used to be. The horrific price we are paying for this on-going war is not in the number of bodies we leave on the battlefield, but in the number of men and women coming home to a country that wants nothing more than to forget a decade plus of battle over happened.

  16. This is enlightening. With soldiers coming back and brutally murdering their wives or committing other heinous crimes, the cause could by the fumes having injured their brains. Something should be done about this immediately. Great post.

    • Renee – If you happened to catch ‘Army Wives’ this past Sunday night, one of the young soldiers returning from a brief deployment to Afghanistan tried to strangle his wife in her sleep and yet he didn’t know what he was doing. I must give kudoos to ‘Army Wives’ for while being rather dramatic at times and a little over the top in portraying the chummy mixing of officer and enlisted wives, etc. – many of the issues they write into the storyline are very real. The particular soldier in the story was diagnosed with PTSD and hospitalized for care (with the support of his command). Unfortunately we don’t always see the support of the command when it comes to the blessing of seeking mental health care (although that’s the lip service the Joint Chief’s of Staff are spinning at the present time). I’ve recorded the show for years and my husband and I watch it. He’s retired military and we discuss what’s reality and being fed to the public and what is so far-fetched there’s not an ounce of validity to it. However, I will say, there’s more good than bad. The potrayal of family dynamics on a military base is close to the real thing.

      Back to your comment on the toxins affecting the brain. The answer has to be yes, in my opinion, but until autoposies are actually performed and studies analysed, we don’t have scientific proof. Everyone, to include the National Instutite of Health, has been so eager to sweep CMI’s and burn pits under the carpet, I’d guess we are years and possibly decades away from concrete scientific data regarding all of the damage sustained due to Burn Pits.

  17. Sheri, this is shocking and sad and, yet again, I wonder why you can present such a clearcut case and still this news is not in headlines. It’s another example of how broken the system remains.

    • Patricia, I was so distressed after researching the burn pit subject I honestly thought I might start writing two book reviews a week. Reality is tough to swallow sometimes. You are correct, I’ve found little reporting (and nothing in depth) from mainstream media that would reach the masses. Soldiers from other countries fighting in Afghanistan are suffering the same symptoms as our troops and their media isn’t touching the subject either. The further I dug into what was being piled onto the burn pits, the more I shuddered. I don’t think this is what our forefathers had in mind when they wrote about the ‘spoils of war.’ Thank you for stopping in to read with me.

  18. Sheri, our current military is paying the price for the cut backs and reduction of armed forces. And althought the public believes that we are saving money and lives, we are in fact doing the opposite. How can the military continue to deploy the same servicemen and women and not expect to get long term health issues?? We have a friend who is an armyh nurse and was deployed at the age of 60 for the third time. How can we do things like this??? Thanks for highlighting het another health issue that the government would rather sweep under the rug.

    • Florence – You’ve hit upon a key issue that I’m currently researching for accurate posting in the next few weeks. In order to meet compliance with the sequestor, troop strengths among both officers and enlisted are being cut while others are being deployed up to 5 and more times. I’m tired of the endless deployments. I say, let’s bring all the troops home from Afghanistan. We aren’t wanted there – never were and never will be. The wars we’ve been fighting have been in place since before our country was a nation. As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t our fight. I may sound more than a tad bit sinister here but we’ve spilled enough blood on this battle front and for what? We’ve trained the Afghanistan soldiers how to use modern weapons and they kill the very men that have been putting their lives at risk for them year after year. It seems to me, 1 + 1 equals 2 and it’s time to get out of a place we should never gone. (But that’s just one woman’s opinion).

      • And that last bit of common sense … actually the entire logic … is the same that we heard in Vietnam. We were not wanted. They took our weapons and training and mostly, our men were more at risk. The hardest part for those of us who are paying attention (since most of the country has turned off and tuned into Cable TV) is that none of the wars we have fought in the last 40+ years were necessary for the safety of Americans … only for the expansion of the military complex. Damn them all !!

        • Florence – Just as the drawdown of troops in Vietnam left many soldiers on the verge of bankruptsy, we are doing the same thing all over again with our present day troops. We sent them off to fight a hell on earth and now tell them we don’t want or need them any longer. However, I do have a good news blog coming up in the near future about a doctor (true story) that took it upon him self as a young Captain to make it possible for returning NCOs to make it to retirement once they returned to the states. He’s a hero in my book!

  19. Glad you’re willing to delve into the depths of research to expose things like this, Sheri.

  20. Terry says:

    You wrote an excellent post. I hope that many read it and wonder why is it that these people are left to the side and not given the proper respect and care they so deserve

    • Terry – We think nothing of sending our men and women into harms way – Congress and our president are eager to allow them to go. Unfortunately the political powers that be readily forget the cost of caring for these same individuals when they return from battle. Perhaps a presidential candidate would like to contribute their ‘election war chest’ and congressional members might contribute their extra large retirement benefits on behalf of the soldiers and the care they require.

      • Terry says:

        it would help if we had a president who had served in the military too. Maybe he would understand, but I doubt it. My heart goes out to the thousands who are sitting and waiting for tomorrow and the many patients I have cared for to the very last breath

  21. I’m crying right now, Sheri, after reading your post. My heart goes out to the men and women who have experienced this and are experiencing it now…and also to those whose symptoms have yet to come to the forefront of their lives. This is tragic as well as preventable. I am devastated to learn of CMI, adding it to the already horrendous pile of debilitating illnesses our veterans suffer. Good God.
    Patti

    • Patti – The true tragedy of CMI is when the soldier or veteran is accused of malingering. They are often told to ‘act like a soldier’ and get on with life, when in fact they are truly ill. CMI has many invisible components, the same as TBIs and PTSD. The many symptoms become almost unbearable to live with and the pain involved can seem endless. Never before have we fought a war when the families and friends of soldiers played such an important part in their lives. The family members and friends see the suffering of their loved one on a daily basis and I always encourage that individual(s) to become an advocate for the injured service member. Often the wounded cannot speak on their own behalf.

  22. Mae Clair says:

    This is so sad. Even sadder because I’d never heard of a burn pit or CMI before. Thanks for the eye-opening wake-up call, Sheri.

    • Hi Mae – Considering it took over ten years of fighting the Veteran’s Administrtion, Congress, National Institute of Health and other agencies for them to recognize CMI as a disease service members should be compensated for is all telling in why the private citizen has little information regarding this practice. Can you imagine the fines that would be imposed if everyone was allowed to pile all their trash and pour gasoline on it and then burn it in their backyard within the confines of the city limits? We probably could not collectively find all the items burned in a burn pit in Afghanistan – but I shudder at the thought – how many days would we elect to stay indoors?

  23. Denise Hisey says:

    I’ve never heard of CMI before -and I was also unaware of the burn pits.
    Our soldiers deserve considerable care and compensation for the many ways they sacrifice themselves.
    Thank you, Sheri, for continuing to educate us about things that are generally behind the scenes.

    • Denise – CMI along with burn pits have been purposefully kept out of the media. With our active duty soldiers committing suicide at 18 per day and our veterans at the rate of 23 per day (and many believe the numbers are higher) the military prefers to keep burn pits away from main stream media. The results of living in this environment are beyond compare and repeated exposure with multiple deployments are catastrophic.

      • Denise Hisey says:

        I have heard about these suicide rates and it is very alarming. Hopefully mental health will be given more of the respect and demand it deserves -especially for those coming home from wartorn areas.

  24. NotDownOrOut says:

    Yet another reason why repeated deployments of persons is a mistake. I know that the decision to send our military in harm’s way is always a decision that weighs heavily on a president’s mind, but I wonder whether we have gotten cavalier with matters. Do we think that tactical weaponry and modern warfare is somehow safer or less violent? Because too many soldiers have walked in danger in service of our country in the last decade. Moreover, this report indicates that people can be “depleted” in base settings due to proximity to these fires even if they are not deployed to walk in hostile environments or travel in areas laced with IEDs. And, as you note, we have become complacent that problems are handled if there’s a pill for them. Anyone who listens to the side effects of drugs in the incessantly run commercials for them knows that one treatment leads to the need for another. I believe in helping other nations find freedom, but fear that new appointments by the current president will lead to more conflicts. Thanks for posting on this subject, Sheri. I think all of us need to know what a high price some pay for the rest of us to be free.

    • Cheryl – Thanks so much for stopping by to express your concerns today. The continuing price our men and women in uniform (and our veterans) pay for serving their country is beyond compare to any other war we’ve entered. We have toxins never before encountered and then we pile them all together and light them with gasoline – how smart can that be? Additionally, as you mentioned, it’s not enough that we send our troops into battle once, but we deploy them again and again. The less than 1% of our population that makes up our military can only sustain this abuse for a limited amount of time. An individual only has to walk the halls of a Veteran’s Hospital to observe first hand the bodies and souls we’ve destroyed in the name of bringing democracy to a country that doesn’t want us within its’ borders.

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