“I will advocate until they drape the flag over my coffin.”That’s what Rosie Lopez-Torres told the Reserve Officers Association her husband, Army Reserve Capt. Leroy Torres, would say about his struggle for fair treatment after being disabled by toxic fumes spewing from burn pits in Iraq in 2007.
“You pretty much have to be a full-time advocate, just to ensure that the system doesn’t lose you in the process … if you come back from fighting a war and have to fight to keep your job. It’s been a huge sacrifice; it’s had a huge impact on our lives,” she said. “How do you endure being stripped of your dignity and the one thing that was your life’s dream?”
Burn pits, in the news with the introduction of legislation that would provide better data on toxic exposure, long have been used to dispose of refuse. The burn pit detail achieves ignition with generous doses of petroleum products, themselves no breath of fresh air.
Toxic exposure is not new: in World War I, mustard gas was used on Allied troops, and in Vietnam, troops were exposed to the Agent Orange defoliant. With the rise of technology, the battlefield includes especially toxic elements. In 2012, an Oregon jury awarded 12 National Guardsmen $85 million for their exposure in Iraq to carcinogen hexavalent chromium. (The decision later was overturned because it was heard in the wrong jurisdiction, not on the argument’s merits.)