Thursday, March 25, 2010

Disabled vet, who was burn pit victim, dies of cancer


More than 500 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have reported illnesses that they blame on the open-pit burning of toxic waste by the military and defense contractors. The numbers were compiled by Disabled American Veterans, a national nonprofit supporting former soldiers, that received the reports over a 17-month period.

The military and contractors like former Halliburton subsidiary KBR have dumped “hundreds of tons of refuse into giant open-air trenches, doused the piles with fuel, and left them to burn,” according to Mother Jones. “The trash includes plastic, metal, asbestos, batteries, tires, unexploded ordnance, medical waste, even entire trucks.”

One such victim was 31-year-old Staff Sergeant Danielle Nienajadlo (pictured), who died on Saturday, March 20. Nienajadlo deployed to Iraq in excellent shape, but became terribly ill in just a matter of weeks after breathing fumes from a pit at Balad Air Base. She began experiencing prolonged headaches, bruises all over her body, an open sore on her back that wouldn’t heal, vomiting and weight loss. After being sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Nienajadlo was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. She died at the University of Washington cancer center.

Veterans groups are calling for the Department of Veterans Affairs to take cases like Nienajadlo’s seriously and not delay as it did with soldiers returning home from Vietnam. “We don’t want another Agent Orange,” says John Wilson, assistant national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans. “Silence does not do any good.”

Multiple class-action lawsuits have been filed by veterans against Halliburton and KBR over their open-pit burning of garbage in Iraq and Afghanistan.