Tens of thousands of veterans and service members stationed at military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan say exposure to trash fires or “burn pits” has left them with breathing problems and other chronic illnesses, including cancer. They are fighting for health benefits, but say the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is turning its back on them.
Veterans say everything went into the burn pits — plastic water bottles, spent munitions, tires, human and medical waste. They say the heaping piles of trash were often then doused with jet fuel and lit on fire. The pits burned 24 hours a day in or next to their military bases.
June Heston, of Richmond, Vermont, lost her husband Mike Heston last year.
"How can that even happen? I was mad. So mad," she said.
Brig. Gen. Mike Heston was in the Vermont National Guard and volunteered for three tours of duty in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
“DELAY AND DENY, UNTIL THEY ALL DIE”
"He was a soldier’s soldier," June Heston said. "It meant everything."
June Heston, of Richmond, Vermont, lost her husband Brig. Gen. Mike Heston last year to stage four pancreatic cancer. The Hestons believe Mike's exposure to burn pits during his time in Afghanistan is to blame.(Published Thursday, March 21, 2019)
But in 2016, nearly four years after his last tour, Mike Heston started having back pain. He went to a slew of doctors who performed countless tests. He lost 75 pounds. For almost a year, no one could figure out what was going on.
"I said, 'I feel like he's dying and I'm the only one who sees it,'" Heston recalled, choking back tears.
Mike Heston was dying. He had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. But it would take new doctors in Boston and an article the veteran stumbled upon to connect the possible dots. It was about a young mother in the Minnesota National Guard, Amie Muller, whose family blamed her pancreatic cancer, and eventual death, on the burn pits at her military base in Iraq. The same kind of burn pits in Mike Heston complained to his wife about at his base.