Men and women in the armed forces are coming back from war with mysterious illnesses. Large pits, where a variety of hazardous materials are burned, have been blamed for a rare lung disease. Now new research backs that up.
One New Mexico soldier has come forward talking about the battle since his return.
Master Sergeant Jessey Baca says the burn pits in Iraq are killing him. He says each day is progressively worse. He looks normal, but he’s suffering, a lot. “It’s a cough that never goes away, your sinuses are burning, your eyes are burning, all of a sudden you get a fever.” Next he says come cold sweats, swollen and painful lymph nodes in grape-like clusters and tumors. Baca calls it the new “Agent Orange,” the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“[It’s] the most putrid, smelliest smell you’ve ever smelled in your life. It burns your nose. It burns your eyes constantly and it never goes away.”
Baca served two tours in Iraq, both times he was stationed at Balad Airbase, the site of one of the largest burn pits. He says it was about 10-acres in size. “Anything that can be thrown away, is thrown away, whether it’s tires, vehicles or destroyed equipment.” That includes hospital waste and human waste.
Baca says he first started feeling sick after his first tour ended in 2003 and he searched for answers. “Everywhere you turn, ‘I don’t know, we don’t know. We can’t figure it out. We don’t know what to do.’ You tell them all your symptoms and they look at your kind of strangely.”
Baca visited dozens of doctors in New Mexico. He and his wife Maria finally got answers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. He’s been diagnosed with chemically induced asthma, constrictive bronchiolitis, mesophelial hyperplasia; among a long list of other things.
Maria said, “You know when you spits up blood, we don’t even know what it is anymore. There’s just pieces of him coming out.”
Faced with a stack of medical bills, the Baca family is focusing on Jessey’s bucket list and managing his symptoms. Maria said, “Yeah, my husband has both his limbs, he has his hands, he has his arms, he doesn’t have hole coming out of his head, but try living with being eaten inside by poison.”
KOB Eyewitness News 4 talked to a physician with the VA in Albuquerque, Dr. Dona Upson. She says more than 2 million troops have been exposed to the burn pits, and they’re still burning. She says constrictive bronchiolitis is terminal, that the only possible treatment option right now is a lung transplant, but doctors still have a lot to learn since this has just come to light. Upson says it’s a problem she expects to see much more of.
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