Veterans want action, not redundant research, on burn pit exposure

Investigations

Iraqi War veteran Christina Thundathil, 39, of Orlando, sometimes lays away at night wondering.

“The worst thing that ever happened to me was I had a broken leg from playing ‘chicken’ on a bicycle, and now I’m sitting here wondering if I’m going to be able to watch my kids grow up,” Thundathil lamented.

Thundathil was 24-years-old when a U.S. led coalition launched into Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein. She was in the Army.

“I had no problem going to war,” she said. “My problem came in when my government lied to me, they said, ‘oh this is harmless.'” 

Thundathil has since learned the smoke and fumes from burn pits in Iraq were not so harmless.

Pits into which the military dumped any and all waste, doused it with jet fuel and burned it.

“My lungs are damaged because of the carcinogens that I inhaled,” she said.

One of her jobs was to burn large barrels of human waste, everyday for 300 days.

“No face masks were given,” Thundathil remembered.

“You put the jet fuel in and you stir it and you light it. You have to sit there, you have to watch it burn.  When the fire goes down when it’s even with the drum, then you have to go back and you have to stir it and you add more jet fuel. It’s pretty nasty.”

By the time she left the Army in 2004, Thundathil had experienced coughing, fevers, nausea, dizziness.

“In 2016, that’s when I started throwing up blood,” said Thundathil.

She went to the VA in Orlando. 

“The doctor said well, ‘you’re fat, that’s why your PFT’s [pulmonary function tests] are wrong,'” Thundathil recalled.

The Orlando VA said it is barred from commenting on a patient unless that patient signs a release.  

The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville later diagnosed Thundathil with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a result of exposure to toxic substances including exposure to burn pits.

COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs.

At a round table discussion in Washington D.C. last week, Iraqi War veteran Lauren Price, who developed a chronic bronchial disease after returning from Iraq, urged action.

Congress and the VA said more research is necessary to determine if smoke and fumes from burn pits affects the health of service members. 

Price claims the research has been done repeatedly with the same findings.

“Burning trash and all forms of trash is detrimental and can be fatal to humans,” Price stated. 

More than 141,000 veterans signed on to the VA’s Burn Pit registry.  The VA has only approved 2,000 burn pit exposure claims.

Thundathil is waiting on her disability claim, which she says includes hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, Gulf War illness, autoimmune condition, migraine headaches secondary to PTSD and tinnitus.  

She also filed an 1151 claim which in her case, would be a claim for negligence.

For people like Thundathil and Price, time is running out.

If you have something that you think should be investigated call our 8 On Your Side helpline at 1-800-338-0808.

Contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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