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PRESS RELEASE: FIRST ADS TELL HOW TOM UDALL TOOK ON THE VA TO GET IMPROVED CARE FOR IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN VETERANS

NM Veteran, Dying after Breathing Toxic Fumes from Burn Pits, Explains Udall’s Efforts are the First Step to Finding a Cure

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – The Udall campaign’s first two ads, airing back-to-back, tell the story of how Tom Udall worked across party lines, took on the Department of Veterans Affairs and passed a law to improve care for thousands of veterans sickened after breathing toxic fumes from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The two new ads, both 30 seconds, are set to begin airing today. The first ad describes how Tom Udall worked in the U.S. Senate to create a national registry of veterans exposed to fumes from the huge open-air pits, which burned nearly constantly throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.The U.S. military used burn pits to dispose of mounds of battle trash: Humvees, unexploded ordnance, rocket launchers, bloody gauze, body parts and more. Thousands of veterans who breathed the fumes have become sick, and many are dying.

The second ad features Jessey Baca, an Iraq veteran from Albuquerque’s South Valley, diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, mesothelial hyperplasia and constrictive bronchiolitis after breathing fumes from burn pits for months. Baca tells how the registry Tom Udall fought to create will help save the lives of veterans like him.

“Imagine if every breath felt like a cactus in your lungs. I was one of thousands of soldiers exposed to burn pits in Iraq. Piled up trash and medical waste and ignited with jet fuel. We breathed it for months. Now I’m dying from it,” Baca says in the ad. “Tom Udall created a national registry for victims. The first step toward a cure. For others, that’ll mean everything.”

After meeting Baca and his wife Maria, Tom Udall introduced the bipartisan Open Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011 to help the VA better understand how air pollution from burn pits has led to diseases among service members and help veterans get more information about the issue. Despite objections from the VA, Udall pushed ahead with the bill. It was signed into law in January of 2013, and the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry was created on June 19, 2014.

“The VA didn’t want to admit that veterans have become ill from toxic fumes from burn pits used by our own military. But Tom Udall took on the VA to help veterans like Jessey Baca get information and treatment – and one day a cure,” said Campaign Manager Daniel Sena. “As our Attorney General, Congressman and U.S. Senator, Tom has always fought for New Mexico veterans and families – no matter what – because he has the integrity to do what’s right for New Mexico.”

Watch the new television ads HERE.

Transcript of “IMAGINE” running 30 seconds: “Imagine, as far as you can see, a large pit filled with trash and medical waste and ignited with jet fuel, burning right next to that neighborhood. I’m Tom Udall, and we’d never allow that here. But tens of thousands of our troops breathed this for months in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now too many are dying from it. It’s why I created a national registry of victims to help find a cure. I approve this message for them.”

Transcript of “CACTUS” running 30-Seconds: “Imagine if every breath felt like a cactus in your lungs. I was one of thousands of soldiers exposed to burn pits in Iraq. Piled up trash and medical waste and ignited with jet fuel. We breathed it for months. Now I’m dying from it. Tom Udall created a national registry for victims. The first step toward a cure. For others, that’ll mean everything. I’m Tom Udall and I’m humbled to approve this message.”

 

BACKGROUND DOCUMENTATION

Exposure Toxic Burn Pits In Iraq Was Making A New Mexico Veteran Sick

In Iraq, Jessey Baca Was Exposed To Toxic Fumes From An Open Air Burn Pit. In July of 2014, NBC News reported: “Like dozens of recent war veterans, Baca blames his fading body on combat time spent working, eating and sleeping near a huge, open-air “burn pit.” The U.S. military used such trenches throughout Iraq and Afghanistan to incinerate mounds of battle trash: Humvees, unexploded ordnance, rocket launchers, bloody gauze, body parts and more.” [NBC News 7/8/2014]

(VIDEO) KOB-TV News Story On Jessey Baca’s Illness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkmBuwi_4hY

(VIDEO) CBS News Story On A Texas Soldier Exposed To Burn Pits: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndurf-mLvMo

 

Other Veterans Like Jessey Baca Were Also Suffering

Pulmonologist Dr. Robert Miller On Open Burn Pits In Middle East: “We Know The Particulate Matter Measured In The Air In Afghanistan And Iraq Was Well About The Level Considered Safe”.In an article on HoustonChronicle.com, author St. John Barned-Smith surveyed the impact of toxins produced in open-air burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq on the health of U.S. soldiers and the efforts of veterans’ families and interested organizations seeking restitution and prevention of future respiratory. The article detailed the death of U.S. Army veteran David Thomas, who died this year of lung cancer at age 46, along with the organization and legal actions of other veterans dealing with their conditions. [HoustonChronicle.com, 07/03/2014]

Professor Anthony Szema: “They’ve Inhaled Metal…It’s Not a Little; It’s A Lot.” In an article published in USA Today, author Kelly Kennedy covered a Stony Brook School of Medicine study that linked respiratory illnesses and subsequent deaths of U.S. soldiers who served in Iraq to nano-particulate titanium dust found at military bases in Iraq. Anthony Szema, a Stony Brook School of Medicine professor, suggested that the dust could come from a variety of sources, including open burn pit for trash located near soldiers’ quarters at military in Iraq. In his research, Szema found that “14% of servicemembers who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan had new-onset respiratory problems”. [USA Today, 06/02/2014]

Doctor On Sean Terry’s Death From Cancer: “…There Is More Than A 50 Percent Likelihood That This Cancer Was Caused By Exposures During His Military Service.” In a companion news article to a video report on 9News.com, Chris Vanderveen wrote about the Terry family and their loss of Sean Terry, a father-of-three and veteran Marine who died from esophageal cancer at age 33. According to a 2009 statement from U.S. Rep Tim Bishop (D-Ney York), “there is mounting evidence that veterans may be ill – and some may have actually died – as a result of exposure to dangerous toxins produced by the [burn] pits”. Despite that, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs denies a link between long-term health problems and burn pit exposure. [9News.com, 04/23/2014]

Kristi Casteel On Her Son Joshua’s Death From Lung Cancer: “I Don’t Think Any Of The Soldiers Thought Twice About It…Most Of Them, I’m Sure, Had No Idea What They Were Breathing.” In an article published online at The Gazette.com, author Erin Jordan states that the Department of Defense “isn’t ready to concede burn pits caused soldiers’ illnesses”, even amid pressure on the Army from the Casteel family to take responsibility for Joshua Casteel’s death. Jordan also cited research by Stony Brook School of Medicine professor Anthony Szema to suggest that dust particulates from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan are linked to chronic lung inflammation and disease. Also, according to oncologist Dr. Thor Haldanarson in a letter written to his mother, Kristi Casteel, “Joshua died of lung cancer without having any of the conventional risk factors such as smoking, asbestos exposure or radiation…I am quite sure we did not have anyone younger with lung cancer those five years I worked at the VA.” [TheGazette.com, 10/28/2012, Updated 4/1/2014]

 

Tom Udall Stepped In To Help By Passing Legislation To Start Working Toward A Cure

Tom Udall Introduced And Helped Pass Legislation To Help Track Veterans Exposed To Toxic Chemicals In Iraq And Afghanistan. On November 3, 2011, Tom Udall introduced S. 1798 (112th): the Open Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011. This bill would create a registry of service members and veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. A hearing was held on June 13, 2012, in the Committee on Veterans Affairs, and the provisions of this bill were inserted into the larger Dignified Burial and Veterans’ Benefits Improvements Act of 2012 (S.3202), which as of January 2, 2013, has passed both chambers of Congress and was signed by the President on January 10, 2013. [112th Congress, S. 1798]

          Ø Tom Udall Pushed Ahead With Burn Pit Legislation Despite Opposition From The VA. According to the Associated Press, the Veterans Administration had opposed recently passed legislation requiring the monitoring of veterans exposed to possibly toxic fumes from open-air burn pits. The AP reported: “Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the lead Senate sponsor of the registry legislation, said he pushed ahead despite VA objections because the department seems to instinctively reject concerns that veterans are harmed by their surrounding environment.” [Associated Press, 1/26/2013]

          Ø Udall’s Legislation To Track Veterans’ Illnesses Related To Open Air Burn Pits Was Signed Into Law. In January of 2013, the Albuquerque Journal reported on the signing of a law affecting veterans sickened by exposure to open air burn pits. “President Barack Obama on Thursday signed two bills into law with New Mexico origins — a measure encouraging states to gather DNA from suspects charged with serious crimes and legislation establishing a registry for service members sickened by burn pits at military sites.” The Journal continued: “The burn pit registry, also introduced by Udall, would establish a registry to help the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs better understand how air pollution caused by open air burn pits of trash and other waste at military sites has led to diseases among service members. The bill also aims to help veterans get more information about the issue. Master Sgt. Jessey Baca, a South Valley man diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, mesothelial hyperplasia and constrictive bronchiolitis after serving in Iraq, prompted the legislation.” [Albuquerque Journal, 1/11/2013]

17 Months After Being Signed Into Law, The VA Launched A Burn Pit Registry. In July of 2014, NBC News reported: “On June 25 -– 17 months after President Barack Obama signed a law creating a national tally for burn pit-related illnesses -– the VA launched the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. Service members and veterans are eligible to enroll if they served in Iraq, Afghanistan or Djibouti, Africa after Sept. 11, 2001, or if they served in the Gulf War or ‘the Southwest Asia theater of operations after Aug. 2, 1990,’ according to a VA news release.” [NBC News 7/8/2014]