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  • Gary Toyn

Lest We Forget the Silent Victims

This is a difficult Memorial Day post, so forgive me if I sound overly sentimental.

This is the first Memorial Day since my son Trevour passed away last October. He served nine years in the Air Force, completed three overseas deployments including a few in Afghanistan, Iraq and over 40 other countries.

During his service, he was exposed to the open burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many veterans have testified that officials at military installations authorized the burning of “solid waste consisting of human body parts, plastics, hazardous medical material, lithium batteries, tires, hydraulic fluid, and vehicles. They also dowsed the pits with kerosene-based jet fuel to keep them burning 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

As a result, congressional testimony has linked these burn pits to 43 different types of cancer. Trevour was diagnosed with DSCRT, an extremely rare cancer with fewer than 300 known cases world-wide, and the vast majority of patients are teens and children. Trevour’s was 35-years-old when they discovered a grapefruit sized tumor from his abdomen. DSCRT has an extremely high mortality rate, as most patients die within 18-24 months. Trevour lived for roughly 27 months. While the VA accorded him the same medical benefits they do for all veterans, they refused to acknowledge that his cancer was, or even may have been service related. He was a victim of bad luck.

Me and Trevour, a few months before he passed

It appears the VA is acting consistently in this case, just as they treated Vietnam vets who were subjected to Agent Orange. It took thousands of mysterious deaths and numerous lawsuits before the VA finally accept culpability. In all, it took 40 years for them to accept responsibility. The same is happening now with veterans exposed to open burn pits. The VA has ignored numerous studies by respected entities, including the Epidemiological International, a public health firm, which cited “irrefutable evidence that there are serious and dangerous health risks associated with exposure to the by-products of waste burning, particularly if the wastes are burned in open burn pits with no emissions controls.”

As of September of 2020, The VA has denied 78% of burn-pit related disability claims. A VA executive reports that the “agency is still in the process of studying the issue.” Consequently, the VA has put the burden of proof on the veterans, requiring them to prove there is a “service connection for diseases associated with exposure to toxic substances.”

A survey last year of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans of America found that “86% reported being exposed to burn pits or other toxins.” Of those, “88% believe they are experiencing symptoms from exposure to burn pits or other toxins.” According to my conversations with men who served with Trevour, too many of his buddies have also developed rare forms of cancer or other illnesses.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my country, and I honor all those who serve our country with honor and with integrity. I am not anti-government, anti-VA, and I am definitely not anti-military. I have nothing to gain financially or otherwise from having the VA accept responsibility. It’s simply the right thing to do.

Here’s the point: This Veterans Day, in addition to remembering those valiant and brave souls who died on the battlefield, let us not forget the thousands of veterans who face unrecognized service-related injuries, and have been forced to endure their pain in silence and anonymity. Let us not forget those who have suffered or died from physical or emotional wounds, and who never received the acknowledgement or appreciation of a grateful nation.

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