Updated: Jul 4
To meaningfully commemorate our 245th Independence Day, I decided to interview Veteran Army Sergeant Paul McMillin. Paul is a 41-year-old married father of three young children who is a RN, BSN Neuro Critical Care nurse at a Columbus Ohio hospital, and whose story of war deployment and consequences may surprise you.
Paul joined the Army in 2001 with the desire to be in an intelligence unit, but a chance opportunity landed him an infantry combat division that engaged in tactical warfare. In 2004, he was deployed to Mosul, Iraq for one year. During that time, military bases used Burn Pits to dispose of tons of waste. The waste included paper, Styrofoam trays, computer parts, food items, plastic wrap, water bottles, electronics, shipping materials, chemical waste, metal and aluminum products, chemicals, paint, medicate waste, body parts, dead animals, human waste, munitions, wood, rubber, and jet fuel as an accelerant. A Burn Pit is not a hole in a ground, a Burn Pit is a very large open-air burning area that operates 24x7 360 days and creates clouds of black smoke and with it, toxic fumes such as dioxins. Some were the size of a football field. The smoke and smell from the Burn Pits were always swirling in the air accelerated by the Middle Eastern wind and were a part of the daily life on the base.
A year later, Paul finished his service contract and returned to civilian life and service with the National Guard. For the next few years, Paul started experiencing subtle respiratory symptoms upon exertion such as running. In 2015 he was hospitalized in the ICU for three weeks for pneumonia and empyema needing a thoracotomy and chest tubes. The doctors were not sure why such a young healthy guy was getting worse not better. In 2018, Paul started experiencing gasping spells and had visited the ER several times needing help. Questioning why his health was deteriorating, Paul started searching for answers for his shortness of breath. As luck would have it, he was introduced to a specialty physician familiar with effects of exposure to Burn Pits and his etiology was understood. It was not psychogenic symptoms mixed with exercise-induced asthma as he was erroneously diagnosed, but it was respiratory symptoms of shortness of breath and anxiety due to Burn Pits exposure. By now, in 2021 Paul is experiencing shortness of breath with tachycardia and decreased tolerance for activities such as climbing stairs. In the winter he suffers from bronchial irritation, generalized burning in the respiratory tracts, pallor, and constant fatigue necessitating naps. Although he can ventilate, he feels like he can never get a refreshing feeling of a deep breath, which can lead to mood swings on bad days with frustration and anger. Paul sought out other veterans who were experiencing similar symptoms and found out that they all were exposed to the Burn Pit elements. He now interviews them to help share their stories.
It is estimated that 3.5 million veterans have been exposed to Burn Pits toxic fumes and likely carcinogens during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The most important issue is that the hundreds of thousands who already filed requests for help from the Veterans Administration (VA) and 80% of claims have been denied. The reason: The VA states that it needs more time to understand the exact science. Just because one serves in the armed forces does not always mean that one is entitled to medical VA services, especially if the injuries were not actually combat related. This fact is compounded by the lack of information about the issue of Burn Pits exposure in the medical community due to lack of research. In the past few years, veterans like Paul have taken to social media, legislators, and celebrities like Jon Stewart to help them seek assistance from the government. So far there is little interest and little help.
A Senate Bill S.952 titled Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2021, was introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York on March 2021. The House companion bill is H. R. 2372, submitted by California Representative and Emergency Room Doctor Raul Ruiz. It was read and passed to the Committees on Veterans Affairs who held hearings. The bill is requesting that veterans of Burn Pits exposure will be given presumptive benefits, which will cover their medical costs and disability when they become sick so that they can continue to support themselves and their families. Right now, many of them are not getting the help they need, and some have already died.
You can support Paul and other suffering veterans by asking your member of congress to support the aforementioned bill by visiting this link and signing a petition to tell congress to stop ignoring veterans who are sick and dying from toxic burn pits www.warfighter2021.com Let’s help our veterans so that their story does not resemble the Agent Orange reality of our Vietnam veterans, which took 16 years to pass, way too late for many of them.
If you do only one thing this Independence Day, let it be signing of the petition to help a veteran. After all, we are the land of the free because of the brave. It is now time for us to help them.
To learn more: https://burnpits360.org and the Sick From Serving page on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=sick+from+serving
Paul McMillin with Jon Stewart at the Capitol 2021