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Vet group BurnPits360 is fighting for federal support for vets exposed to toxic chemicals

U.S. Marines with 1st Marine Logistics Group (1st MLG) burn black water aboard Taqaddum, Iraq September 22, 2008. Brig. Gen. Robert R. Ruark, Commanding General, 1st MLG, watched the event because this was the last time burning this specific black water pit before filling it in with sand. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jason W. Fudge)
March 07, 2020

A non-profit group is paving the way in Congress to soon introduce a bill that would expand critical health care benefits to veterans exposed to toxic chemicals.

Founded by Army Capt. Le Roy Torres, who was himself exposed to toxic chemicals in Iraq, and his wife, Rosie Torres, BurnPits360 is a nonprofit organization leading the charge to seek benefits for those who suffered adverse effects from exposure to hazardous materials burned abroad. 

“We’re self-made lobbyists,” Rosie Torres told American Military News.

Capt. Torres was exposed to toxic fumes while deployed in Balad, Iraq from 2007 to 2008. He was a reservist, and when he returned home to his work as a Texas State Trooper, his employer urged him to get checked out due to numerous symptoms he was experiencing.

Eventually, Capt. Torres was diagnosed with lung disease, fibrosis of the lungs, toxic brain injury, gastrointestinal issues, and many other ailments. Memory loss and dementia were also part of his new reality.

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It’s also the reality for many more who experience toxic exposure. These veterans are losing their livelihood and the VA is turning their back on them. More than 10,500 burn pit claims have been submitted to the VA, and only approximately 2,360 have been granted.

“We’re losing our jobs. We’re losing our homes. The suicides are through the roof,” Rosie Torres said.  

BurnPits360 has been holding closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill with members of Congress, veterans organizations, and even celebrity comedian Jon Stewart. Stewart advocated for a similar bill, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provided benefits to first responds and victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

The bill would provide presumptive coverage to veterans who served in the Middle East and were exposed to toxic chemicals so that they can obtain the critical specialized healthcare needed for their conditions.

It’s difficult to diagnose, assess, and facilitate someone suffering from the effects of toxic exposure, Torres said. “A lot of people are misdiagnosed.”

The group is “bridging the gap for what DOD wasn’t doing,” Rosie Torres said. The group has created their own independent burn pit registry, provided resources and documents, and helped victims navigate the VA claim system.

It’s the only organization offering such services, and the only one with an independent registry so toxic exposure victims can be properly counted and represented.

At least 506 veterans have reported their cancer diagnoses – which they believe to be service-related — to BurnPits360.