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In an age of looming government shutdowns, defunding of health programs, and less than 5% of the living population of the United States knowing what it is like to live in a declared war zone as a member of the armed forces, Congress’ decision to drop burn pit exposure from the Pentagon research list shouldn’t come as a surprise. Speaking as someone who sat 10 feet from burning medical waste for hours on end just to leave the gate on convoys and now has a host of weird maladies, the cancellation of Pentagon research into burn pit exposure is aggravating, disappointing, and potentially deadly.
But it isn’t surprising.
And the veteran reaction to the news was also not surprising — anger, outrage, general disdain, and calls for the country to take care of its military. Some call the burn pits the Agent Orange of our generation of veterans. Without proper research, we won’t understand the full effects until it is too late for many of us to receive treatment. All of this is true.
But we have to step back for a moment. There is reality to deal with, and that reality is bound by money. I would love to get through a year without hearing the word “sequester,” wouldn’t you? How about “lights about to go off in Washington?” The reality is the military, and our continued care, is a very expensive deal for a very small part of the population. We can “storm the Hill” all we like, but we don’t have the numbers like those affected by programs such as Social Security, the Affordable Care Act, climate change research, and so forth. According to Congress, the Department of Veterans Affairs is limited in the amount of research programs that can be funded this coming year. Burn pits can easily get sidelined for traumatic brain injuries, mental health issues, or prosthetic development research. Really, I don’t envy them for having to make those decisions. How would you choose?
We can’t get all the money and we can’t split the money we have into researching everything effectively. So there isn’t much we can do.
Well, not much we can do federally. There’s still a lot we can do for each other.
Between veterans, our families, our friends, and the supporting community, we are a force to be reckoned with, even if we don’t always have the power to move dollars around Capitol Hill. If we channel our outrage into productivity, we might actually be able to change the entire landscape.
Let’s look at the current problem of burn pit research. It isn’t getting federal funding, case is closed, Congress is in recess, try again next year. So we complain for a day on social media, and then what? What are our options?
I don’t know, so I ask the question of my network: Who else is studying the medical effects of burn pits?
If the answer is no one, maybe if we ask enough of the right people it can be a spark to some of the researchers out there, such as the veteran-focused university medical research programs at New York University’s Langone or Cornell University’s Weill-Cornell Medicine, or perhaps private foundations such as the Intrepid Foundation, to start something new. They have great funding avenues for new innovations and can pull in outside funding that might have wider applications, appealing to a larger audience. It’s a win-win for research. The world would change as a result of the veteran community uniting with the civilian community to make something happen for the greater good.
Or maybe it already exists and someone can tell me about it and I can get my name on a list next time I start coughing up a lung. Surely, if it exists, someone I know knows someone who knows something, right? So let’s say I find out, and then what do I do? I share it with everyone else in my network because what’s important here is getting this research funded and completed and on to treatment options for the whole. And if all of us did this, we each asked the question until one of us found an answer and then shared it with the others, we could save each others’ lives as well as potentially our own.
So am I annoyed at this defunding of research into what might have the largest scale of negative medical effects in my generation of veterans? Absolutely. But I’m going to do something about it. I’m asking questions, and prodding my network into asking the same. I’ve asked that network to ask their network, and to share any reviews of programs on my website for veteran and community resources. It’s called www.pathfinder.vet, and we are using it to start filtering the information for each other and reach a nationwide audience with ratings of quality and impact, not just who spends what where.
And one by one, I’ve watched it happen. We are starting to police up each other and our community. We have stopped waiting for someone to hand us an answer and started looking for it for ourselves, and most importantly, we are sharing it with one another; those who make up and the modern generation of veterans, family, and supporters.
How long we are going to have federal funding for programs is constantly in question, but how long we are going to look out for our own community never is. We don’t need to storm the hill; we need to storm the country, find the resources, and fix this problem ourselves by sharing and supporting the best resources — whether they are government programs or not. Outrage isn’t enough and it isn’t effective anymore, but our network has immense power.
If you know something out there about burn pits, or mental health, or just the best group for getting together with fellow vets and supporters to catch a drink and relax, share it. The rest of us want to know so maybe we can come buy you that drink.
To learn more about Pathfinder, visit the website.
Three U.S. service members received non-life-threatening injuries after being fired on Monday by an Afghan police officer, a U.S. official confirmed.
The troops were part of a convoy in Kandahar province that came under attack by a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police, a spokesperson for Operation Resolute Support said on Monday.
Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.
Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.
The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty
Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.
Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:
Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.
In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.
On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.
Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.
After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.
- 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
- Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
- Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
- Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
- Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.
The top leaders of a Japan-based Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet squadron were fired after an investigation into a deadly mid-air collision last December found that poor training and an "unprofessional command climate" contributed to the crash that left six Marines dead, officials announced on Monday.
Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules and one Marine onboard an F/A-18D Hornet were killed in the Dec. 6, 2018 collision that took place about 200 miles off the Japanese coast. Another Marine aviator who was in the Hornet survived.
The Department of Veterans Affairs released an alarming report Friday showing that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, with little sign that the crisis is abating despite suicide prevention being the VA's top priority.
Although the total population of veterans declined by 18% during that span of years, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide annually, according to the VA's 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.