Truth to Power

Poisoned by the army

Burn Victims

Retired Sgt. Michael Maynard can no longer feel his feet. He began to notice the problem four years ago while working as an air-traffic control specialist in the Army. After a year at Camp Taji in Iraq, Maynard took off his boots one night and found that a hot piece of metal had slipped inside–hot enough to tear away his skin. Somehow he hadn’t felt it.

By the time another year had passed, Maynard was back home in Indiana, confined to a wheelchair. Today, at age 49, he needs heavy braces to help him stand.

“With his muscles degenerating … he keeps falling,” his wife Maria says. “He’s a mess. I am constantly worried about him.”

Department of Veterans Affairs doctors were flummoxed by his condition, finally diagnosing rheumatoid fibromyalgia. But Maynard’s own neurologist believes his condition is the result of nerve damage caused by toxic exposure.

He is not alone. Michael Maynard is one among thousands–perhaps tens of thousands–of veterans suffering from what growing anecdotal and scientific evidence indicates is chronic illness due to inhaling poisonous emissions from the massive burn pits at Army installations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Defense is having a hard time managing this story, which echoes the infamous Vietnam-era Agent Orange scandal and Gulf War Syndrome. (There still has been no official admission that symptoms of the latter are service-related.)

The Pentagon insists that burn pits pose no long-term health risks. But this summer, an Army research article surfaced that suggests otherwise, and individual physicians are now saying that the type of heart and lung damage they see among returning soldiers can only be explained by prolonged exposure to toxic emissions. One soldier stationed in Hawaii was told by Army doctors that his cystic lung disease and shrinking abdominal aorta were probably related to his burn-pit exposure at Camp Speicher in Iraq. He is believed to be the first to have the link officially documented.</em>

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