We know War is dangerous but we tend to think of the injuries as being physical injuries from bombs or weapons. When the worker returns home, we give a sigh of relief and life goes on. Or does it? On a return visit to Peru, we went to the hospital and checked on a former client for whom we obtained a settlement and we learned he was fighting cancer. Initially we saw this as an isolated case. Even when we were contacted by a different individual who had worked for contractors in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan war zones, and had contracted cancer, we were initially skeptical that the cancer was related to their deployment. Then we heard our former client died. This was not a “normal” cancer. It was, as the Doctor in Peru said, “like nothing we have ever seen.”
Almost everyone I speak to about those Wars, tells me they did not realize we fought those wars with foreign workers. They did not realize that American companies hired our fighters from far off places. Yes, we fought those wars with workers from Peru, Chile, Honduras, Uganda and Columbia. Why? Cheap labor for sure and when they were injured, we sent them home. They would have to rely on medical care in their own country.
Both US Military and foreign contract workers suffered stomach or lung problems after returning home. For the foreign contract workers, visits to their community hospitals turned up odd findings on Xrays. Yet there is little cancer treatment in these third world countries where the doctor might give out ibuprofen as treatment. Given the patient’s downward deterioration or consistent weight loss, returning workers gradually died. The doctors in local communities had never been to war zones and were not aware that an illness months later could be a manifestation of a war they knew little about.
Burn pits? Most people have never heard of them. Even in the United States, we are not aware that over 150 burn pits in Iraq burnt 24/7 every object we took war. You name it, medical waste, dead dogs, body parts, every water bottle, tires, helicopter blades, extra weapons, bomb parts because nothing could be left to be dug up or uncovered. Those burn pits were on the bases where our workers slept and yes the wind blew fumes everywhere as winds are prone to do.
Could the foreign fighters make up these illnesses? What about the 173,273 American servicemen who have documented their exposures to airborne hazards in these wars? Speaking with foreign contract workers, we discovered there were a large number of people who had contracted cancer and were fighting it or they told of others who had died. That gave us cause to dig deeper to determine if there was a correlation.
Statistics show that the rate of cancer in the US military and the contractor employees was much higher than the general population. In a study conducted at Augusta University in Georgia, Dr. Halder determined that a higher proportionate mortality was observed in Army veterans (65.9%) than those who served in other military units such as Air Force (18.2%), Navy (4.5%) or Marines (11.4%). The Army workers lived in closer proximity to the burn pits than the other divisions.
The internet connects us and perhaps a correlation between people reporting the same symptoms from being in the war zones will mean the connection between work and illness can be made sooner. Certainly the US Military soldiers who have fallen ill to cancer after working in the War Zones don’t want to wait 30 years which is how long it took the VA to recognize Agent Orange as a cause of illness after the Vietnam War began. Surely we are better informed and connected now.
On a recent trip to Uganda, I met a black man (30 years old) who was assigned to work at a burn pit in Iraq. He knew the other 9 men who worked the burn pit with him (a total of 10 men). He stayed in touch with them when he returned home. 5 of them are dead he said. I thought, this is 50% mortality rate. Was there a correlation between working the burn pits and illness leading to early deaths?
In the case of Veronica Landry vs. Service Employees International, Inc., Judge Christopher Larsen ruled there was a causal connection between the injured worker’s lung disease and her work alongside the burns pits that burned every day in the Iraq War zone where she was stationed. As such the Employer was responsible for treatment of her lung disease.
These cases are not easy but this firm must never falter from telling the truth whatever it is in each individual case. Every life is important to us and every worker deserves proper treatment.