In breaking news, National Guard veteran, Amie Muller who believed deployments to Iraq caused her cancer, and fought to expose the ‘Burn Pit’ hazards has died at age 36.
Muller worked and lived next to burn pits that billowed toxic smoke night and day at an air base in northern Iraq. After returning to Minnesota, she began experiencing health problems usually not seen in a woman in her 30s.
Muller died a week ago, nine months after being diagnosed with Stage III pancreatic cancer.
On Friday, more than 800 of her friends and family gathered at a memorial service in Woodbury to remember the life of the 36-year-old mother of three. A pastor noted her loss was both painful and seemingly incomprehensible.
“I wish there was a simple way to explain what has happened to Amie. Why Amie is gone,” said Pastor Lisa Renlund. “Life truly isn’t that simple. It can get messy. It can feel complicated. It can seem unfair.”
But others also are remembering Muller’s battle to win recognition from the U.S. government for victims of the burn pits, which have the potential of becoming the Iraq and Afghanistan wars’ equivalent of the Vietnam War’s Agent Orange. It took nearly three decades for the U.S. government to eventually link the defoliant used in Vietnam to cancer.
Muller first told her story in the Star Tribune last year shortly after she was diagnosed.
In an interview in August, she spoke about the frustrations of a life put on hold. Fatigued from chemotherapy and complications from medical procedures, she also talked about getting the word out about what she believed is the burn pits’ toxic legacy.
“It’s kind of like what you’d imagine what hospice would feel like, where you are just waiting and waiting and you don’t have any energy,” she said. “But I want to make sure other people are getting their voices heard, too.”
“When we came home we felt like we were lucky and it just doesn’t feel like that anymore.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ position on burn pit exposure has not changed. It believes research has not established evidence of long-term health problems.
But there has been movement. A registry for service members based on where they were stationed during deployments now includes more than 100,000 people.
Earlier this month, U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced bipartisan legislation, the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act, that would create a center of excellence within the VA to better understand the health effects associated with burn pits and to treat veterans who become sick after exposure.
Klobuchar said she is encouraged by work being done at the Minneapolis VA looking at links between exposure to toxic substances and the use of anti-inflammatories for treatment.
“What’s important to me is that we keep doing this research and we don’t close our eyes and pretend that it’s just a coincidence that these veterans came home with these illnesses,” she said. “It’s a sad chapter, whether it was Agent Orange or Gulf War Syndrome, that people had to wait this long. We don’t want this to happen again with burn pits.”
Joseph Hickman, a veteran and author of “The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers,” sees the legislation as progress but still worries that many veterans are being stonewalled and their benefits claims delayed, often until after they have died.
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