Are Burn Pits To Blame for Terminally Ill Iraq Veterans?

U.S. Army soldiers watch garbage burn in a burn-pit at Forward Operating Base Azzizulah in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, February 4, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Burton (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: MILITARY) - RTR3DCLD

After a decades long battle, National Guard veteran Amie Muller succumbed to pancreatic cancer.  She believed it was a result of deployments to Iraq and exposure to burn pits.

Burn pits produced billowing toxic smoke night and day at an air base in northern Iraq. After returning to Minnesota, she began experiencing health problems usually not seen in a woman of age.  Muller was thirty-six and died nine months after being diagnosed with Stage III pancreatic cancer.

Muller battled to win recognition from the United States government for victims of the burn pits, which have the potential of becoming the Iraq and Afghanistan wars’ equivalent of the Vietnam War’s Agent Orange.

In an interview last August, Muller spoke about the frustrations of a life put on hold. Fatigued from chemotherapy and complications from medical procedures, she also talked about getting the word out about what she believed is the burn pits’ toxic legacy.

“It’s kind of like what you’d imagine what hospice would feel like, where you are just waiting and waiting and you don’t have any energy,” she said. “But I want to make sure other people are getting their voices heard, too.”

The burn pit near her living quarters was one of the most notorious of the more than 230 that were constructed at military bases across Iraq and Afghanistan before their use was restricted in 2009.  Materials including metals, Styrofoam, rubber and medical waste stoked with jet fuel were burned in an open pit daily.

Muller was easily fatigued after returning home and began to wonder whether a host of ailments from migraines to fibromyalgia were connected to her military service at Balad.

According to Muller’s friend Julie Tomaska, who deployed with Muller in 2005 and 2007, Muller  loved animals and people.

“On deployment, she would draw out the misfits, because she was an ear and a shoulder, listening without judgment.”

Tomaska also suffered from chronic fatigue, headaches and digestive problems. Her disability claim with the VA was approved with a diagnosis of “environmental exposures.”

United States Senators Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced bipartisan legislation, the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act that would create a center of excellence within the VA to better understand the health effects associated with burn pits and to treat veterans who become sick after exposure.

“Amie Muller served this country with distinction, and we owe her our gratitude,” Sen. Klobuchar said in a statement following Muller’s death. “I am going to keep fighting so that these veterans receive the care and support they need.”

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