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The Pits of my Burning Lungs

I’m living chronic. I live with chronic disease, and I’ve spoken at length about my battles with Crohn’s disease and drug induced lupus. In light of the recent uproar over the Congressional Budge Office’s recommendation that veterans who make more than $170,000 a year have their disability eliminated and those who make between $125,000 and $170,000 have their disability reduced, I thought I’d discuss my chronic illnesses linked to burn pits. To be certain, my Crohn’s disease is also linked to burn pits. There are new studies indicating that IBD can be caused by a gene that you already carry and being exposed to an environmental event, like a burn pit. I’ve always contended that my IBD was caused by burn pits. I started having symptoms in Afghanistan and there are roughly 66,000 veterans suffering from IBD, many after serving near burn pits. Unfortunately, the U.S. has not yet taken responsibility for burn pits causing IBD but they have taken responsibility for my chronic sinusitis, rhinitis, and bronchitis. I never thought I would end up with IBD but I always knew I’d end up with issues related to my upper respiratory tract. When I served in Afghanistan, KBR was a mere 50 ft away, burning everything in sight. The burn pits combined with the pollution in the Kabul air meant that our airways were constantly being assaulted. Many of us used to wear medical masks if we were going to run outdoors, spend long hours outside, or sometimes even just to walk to the next office. We used to joke, in between changing our now black mask for a fresh white one, that we would all meet again one day in the Operation Enduring Freedom wing of the Veterans Affairs hospital. It’s not so funny now. I’m currently experiencing my 3rd bronchitis of 2023. It’s April 26. In this same time frame, I’ve also had varying levels of sinus infection-from very infected to mild. It has not gone away and frankly; I’m used to living my life this way. Each year, I experience 6-7 sinus infections, 4-5 incidents of bronchitis, and constant rhinitis. This will not go away in my lifetime. I will experience these infections for the rest of my life, all a result of serving near burn pits. This is why I was just as flabbergasted as everyone else that the Congressional Budget Office would event suggest my disability payments should be eliminated. As a matter of fact, that’s not all the CBO recommended. They also recommended VA disability payments be included with taxable income and they be reduced once the veteran reaches full Social Security age. I’ve always been more than a little slighted that my health and entire life as I once knew it could be reduced to the small monthly payment the VA provides me. I’m furious that my life and daily struggles could be completely dismissed by the CBO. It’s more than insulting, it’s an outrage and a slap in the face to every veteran suffering from diseases caused by the burn pits. Could you imagine if Exxon Mobil or Pacific Gas asked for some of the money awarded to victims of their pollution back once those victims were able to return to work? My struggles with sinusitis and bronchitis are not insignificant. Over the past few months, I’ve had more than one day where I accomplished what I absolutely needed to and nothing more. I just don’t have the energy to push through and do the extra. I’m always in pain and it’s a real struggle to just stay awake when I’m struggling to breathe all day. The fact that I’m able to work through all this should be celebrated, not used to penalize me. I don’t believe for a second this won’t come up again. Veterans suffering from the effects of burn pits will probably be put up for sacrifice to the never ending budget debates. Unfortunately, lawsuits against KBR have been unsuccessful because they say the U.S. government ordered them to burn harmful items. Our only recourse is from the government itself. I hope the next time the Congressional Budget Office tries to save a dollar, they look outside of the veterans they poisoned with burn pits. We deserve better.

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