DENVER — A Colorado woman says she is dealing with a serious lung disease she got as a result of working as a defense contractor in Iraq.
Veronica Landry, 47, has led an active lifestyle as a body builder and spin instructor.
However, after returning from Iraq, she had trouble breathing.
“I was completely blacked out to where I couldn’t see. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t move but I could hear everything going on around me in that emergency room. I knew I was dying,” Landry said.
Over the past three years, Landry has dealt with small airway lung disease, a brain injury and a large airway collapse.
“This has definitely been an emotional stretch for me and my children,” she said.
Landry spent almost one year on Forward Operating Base Marez in Iraq.
“I expected I might get killed by a bomb or something,” she said.
What Landry says she didn’t realize was that her own country was slowly killing her. She is just one of the thousands of military men and women who are now sick or dying because of the air they had to breathe.
The U.S. military burned batteries, medical waste, tires, heavy metals and other dangerous carcinogens in large burn pits on or near the base.
“The burn pits run all day everyday, and they’re set on fire with jet fuel,” Landry said.
“Ten years ago, I don’t think we knew anything about burn pits. I don’t think we even knew the term burn pits,” said Dr. Cecile Rose, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health in Denver.
Rose now knows more about burn pits than most. National Jewish Health in Denver is at the forefront of burn pit research, conducting a 5-year-long lung study funded by the Department of Defense.
“For the most part, people I have identified remain pretty stable, but they don’t get better,” said Rose.
Unfortunately, many veterans dealing with burn pit health impacts are also struggling to get treatment covered.
The Department of Veterans Affairs established a voluntary burn pit registry. More than 180,000 people have signed up.
Of the more than 12,000 claims filed, only about 2,500 have been accepted.
“This is the new Agent Orange. It is. They have yet to own up to own up to any responsibility. They have yet to pay one penny to help people. That is horrible. It’s as if you’re saying, ‘Only Americans on American soil matter’,” said Landry.
Because Landry was a contractor, she had to take her case to federal court to try and receive benefits from the company she worked for. She ultimately won the first case in U.S. history linking burn pits to lung disease, but still has yet to pay for any of her medical expenses for any disability.
Landry’s life now revolves around breathing treatments and physical therapy as she works to continue breathing.
“I have a lot to be grateful for and I just try to focus on that daily. But at the same time, it’s very disheartening to see what so many of us are going through and the lack of responsibility taken for it,” Landry said.