Justice may prevail in the Lonestar State for Veterans who have suffered serious health conditions as a result of exposure to burn pits in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Texas is home to more than one million Veterans.
The Texas Supreme Court will finally hear a case involving a reservist Veterans who was forced to sacrifice his 14 year career as a Texas State Trooper as a result of debilitating lung illness from the burn pits.
Since the early 1990’s, federal law has mandated that employers reinstate military members to comparable work upon return from military service.
USERRA, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, has provided safeguards for our nation’s service members since its passage through Congress more than 25 years ago. However, for former trooper Le Roy Torres, the state of Texas failed to uphold its obligation upon his return.
For 18 years, Le Roy Torres served as a reservist while also committed to his career as a Texas State Trooper. He was deployed to Iraq from 2007 through 2008 but was honorably discharged due to serious breathing challenges as a result of exposure to burn pits.
He found himself in the Emergency Room only weeks after returning home which soon turned into ongoing appointments seeking answers. The Texas Department of Public Safety ceased to make accommodations to Torres while he was seeking treatment.
According to Texas Public Radio’s Carson Frame, Torres requested a job modification and recalled:
“They never gave me an answer. No definitives. Nothing. All they could tell me was, ‘It’s probably best if you just take care of yourself.’
In other words:
‘You need to resign.’”
Burn pits were a common solution for waste management in both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite modern knowledge of air quality and pollution, military protocol dictated that discarded items were to be burned in ongoing fires that raged continuously.
Refuse dumped in the pluming burn pits included batteries, chemicals, animal carcasses, medicines, ammunition, plastics, human waste and even amputated human limbs. The fires were kept blazing by using jet fuel as an accelerant, soldiers report.
It is no surprise that military veterans who were exposed to the burn pits have returned home only to be faced with severe health conditions which have prohibited any hope of returning to the lives they left behind before their service.
Diagnoses from burn pit toxins include pulmonary diseases, rare cancers, neurological disorders and more. For thousands, the ultimate sacrifice was made not in the foreign countries of Iraq and Afghanistan but right here at home as their illnesses from the burn pits took their last breaths.
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Le Roy Torres, personally knowing the depth of these illnesses, founded Burn Pit 360, a non-profit organization committed to being a resource for Veterans struggling with burn pit illnesses.
Since its inception, Burn Pit 360 has worked tirelessly to create both a federal registry as well as a Texas specific registry of Veterans struggling with burn pit related illnesses. According to Burn Pit 360, the registry:
“Allows eligible Veterans and service members to document their exposures, report health concerns, submit updated health and death entries through an online questionnaire that allows us to track changes in physical and mental health over time, gaps in care time, gaps in care and denial of VA benefits.”
The impact of the upcoming Texas Supreme Court ruling has far greater implications than for just Torres. With more than 1,675,262 Veterans in the state, countless more may finally be provided adequate job protection as intended under federal law.
Additionally, the safeguards that this ruling may provide has significant potential impact on future recruiting efforts for those considering reservist service. It is with much anticipation that Burn Pit 360 and all impacted Veterans in the state of Texas wait to receive a ruling that will not only affect those who have already served but also those who will serve in the future.
The organization recently announced that Jon Steweart, former The Daily Show host on Comedy Central and outspoken advocate for NYC 9/11 First Responders, officially partnered with Burn Pits 360 to produce a PSA which brings national awareness to the cause.
“We are so grateful and honored to have such a powerful and influential voice to advocate on behalf of the millions of US Vets who are suffering from this silent and debilitating illness,” said Rosie Torres, founder of Burn Pits 360.
She said his voice will go a long way in the battle.
“Jon’s fight to get the 9/11 first responders the appropriate funding to cover their health-related issues was powerful, and we hope his voice will do the same for our post 9/11 war heroes.”
The Jon Stewart PSA will be released on Burn Pits 360 webpage (www.burnpits360.org) as well as their social media channels.
“Our goal is to drive a viral movement towards this issue,” Torres added, “but more importantly, I hope millions of Vets who are silently suffering will sign up for our national registry so that lawmakers and the VA finally hear our war heroes voices and recognize their illnesses . We look forward to working with Jon [Stewart] to bring the fight to DC.”
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