Faith & Family

Burn Pits 360: Advocating for Veterans and Emergency Responders

(Screenshot - VA.Gov)

Burn Pits 360 is a federal 501c(3) non- profit veterans organization located in Robstown, Texas. Our mission is providing advocacy for veterans, military service members and families of the fallen affected by deployment-related toxic exposures through outreach, research and support services promoting access to specialized healthcare, benefits and compensation. Burn Pits 360 manages a registry of over 6,000 participants. Currently we are the only organization tracking questions recommended by the National Academy of Science to include the option for a family of the fallen to submit a death entry by proxy and the option to report a decline in health function.

My wife Rosie and I formed the organization after I returned from Iraq, only to realize I was fighting a whole new war on a different battlefield. I served a dual role for my state and the nation as a Texas State Trooper for 14 years and Captain in the United States Army for 23 years. I served 7 years active duty and 16 in reserve. Upon my return from Iraq I became ill and my employer sent me home due to fear of being contagious. That is when the journey began.

burn pits 360
Burn Pits 360 is designed to help soldiers battling health issues from war. (VA.gov)

Attempting to seek answers and health care from the DOD and VA healthcare systems, I faced a system of misdiagnosis and denial. My respiratory issues were said to be anxiety, only to be later diagnosed with the irreversible lung disease Constrictive Bronchiolitis. I was also recently diagnosed with a toxic brain injury due to burn pit exposure.

My wife and I traveled the U.S. leaving our children behind in search of medical answers and specialized healthcare at Vanderbilt University, Johns Hopkins University and National Jewish Denver Lung Hospital. I realized that the only way to ensure no other family was served by denial was to form an organization. The challenges grow; however, our will to advocate for those dealing with invisible wounds also increases.

Our grassroots efforts include the 2013 Open Burn Pit Registry bill 112-260 signed by President Obama, which called for a joint longitudinal study by the Department of Veteran Affairs and Department of Defense. Our submission during the open comment period for registry revisions to the VA Office of Public Health called for the addition of Constrictive Bronchiolitis. We presented our registry data to the National Academy of Science committee and gave statements to the Defense Health Board all while forming an alliance with the Department of Veteran Affairs and Department of Defense.

Burn Pits 360’s registry has over 120 cancer and suicide related death submissions of someone’s son, daughter, wife, husband, brother, sister, mother, father who are non-existent to the VA and DOD. Currently the VA and DOD offers no health program for specialized health care, no list of presumptive illnesses, no compensation benefits or death benefits for those suffering from the invisible toxic wounds of war. As a result, VA claims directly related to burn pit exposure are being denied and widows and their children are not receiving benefits. Veteran’s symptoms are often misdiagnosed as psychosomatic conditions, leading to many of their deaths. It is our moral obligation as a nation and as a state to serve our military and their families suffering from a war that followed us home.

burn pits 360
(Image courtesy of Burn Pits 360)

It has become my mission to also open a Warrior Support Center as one of our programs of Burn Pits 360. Understanding that we were losing veterans and first responders to invisible wounds of war and suicide, I made the decision to develop a program to help those war heroes and first responders in our community. The program would allow us to establish a center where veterans, first responders, and their families could access services, rebuild camaraderie, and have access to a home away from home environment. The Warrior Support Center offers the following services: case work assistance, claims assistance, seminars, peer support, career closet, recreation activities, food pantry, and computer lab.

My hope is to assist my brothers and sisters in blue and the veteran community who are battling not only medical conditions from toxic exposure, but also those facing battles with invisible wounds, job loss, and other challenges.

Le Roy Torres is a retired Captain in the USAR, a retired Texas Highway Patrolman and co-founder of Burn Pits 360. You can see more of their mission here.

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