Why am I still alive? How have I survived this long? Those are the questions on my mind four years after being handed a death sentence in the form of Stage IV colon cancer. A death sentence rendered a month before my son’s first birthday. After years of fighting to survive, the moment I’ve dreading came to be – chemotherapy stopped working. My fight is not over, though. I’m still fighting, because I’ve realized the legacy I can leave behind.
I’m a Vermont Army National Guard veteran, who completed combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010. One thing they had in common was inescapable smoke emitted from burn pits outside the base where we lived. I still remember the oxygen being sucked from the air as burn pit smoke engulfed everything in its path.
Burn pits are giant trash piles in which food, human and medical waste, heavy metals, Humvees, and everything else are discarded, coated with diesel and jet fuel, then ignited.
“Delay, deny, hope you die.” That was a common aphorism used by Vietnam veterans to describe the way the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) treated them upon their return home from a war that exposed millions of them to an herbicide that needs no introduction: Agent Orange. Decades later, the consequences of Agent Orange are still unfolding, and exposure has cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Instead of learning from the past, the VA seems content to sit idly by while a new generation of veterans die from the health effects of our generation’s Agent Orange – burn pits.
I deserved better care
I’ve survived this long because of my desire to fight, not on the battlefield, but in the courtroom in the hopes of causing real change to prevent one other person, one other family, from suffering the same fate as me and my family.
I’m suing the U.S. government because of the medical treatment I received from my local VA medical center. You see, after completing two combat deployments, I turned to the VA for medical care. And it failed me.
Leave no woman behind:Female veterans served America, but the VA system doesn’t serve and protect them
When I first went to my local VA medical center in 2013, I complained of diarrhea multiple times a day since my deployment to Afghanistan. I also complained of bloody stools, waking up multiple nights a week to use the bathroom, and losing significant weight in Afghanistan.
I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, which, at the time, brought me solace since it explained my symptoms, or so I thought. Unfortunately, the physician to whom I entrusted my care, did not consider any other treatment plans or causes of my illness. Several years and appointments later, I went to the emergency room in 2017 after an especially bloody bowel movement. A colonoscopy was finally ordered, but it was too late. My cancer was terminal.
I was 31 years old. My wife had just given birth to our son. My happily-ever-after was ripped from me, and was transformed into the hardest fight of my life, one I won’t win.