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“I feel kinda like a drowning sensation in my lungs”: National Guard veteran from Queens describes living with burn pit after-effects

A hearing was held in Washington this week about the health care needs of veterans exposed to dangerous toxins from burn pits.

Burn pits contained plastics, medical and human waste, batteries and other materials and were ignited with jet fuel. They’re commonly used on overseas bases in Iraq and Afghanistan when the military can’t get rid of garbage another way.

U.S. Army National Guard veteran Bryce Padrone, from Queens, told CBS2’s Alice Gainer he’s suffering from the after-effects.

“The burn pits are so close that we would see a wall of smoke coming across the walkway. When we did physical fitness, sometimes you had to run through the smoke,” Padrone said.

He was stationed in Ramadi, and while there in 2011, he was diagnosed with walking pneumonia.

He says when he got back to the states, “I coughed still, runny nose. I was getting upper respiratory infections … They said that I had, like, spots on my lungs and they correlated them to the same kind of spots that you would have, I guess, from like a 9/11 victim, like the soot they breathed in.”

“It’s literal death. We have had many veterans who have already passed away due to the symptoms and illnesses they come down with — lung cancers, rare brain cancers,” said Jeremy Butler, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “About 5,500 IAVA members completed this survey. Eight percent say they were exposed. Almost 50 percent say that they have symptoms that they believe are related to that exposure.”

Similar to the 9/11 health laws, the Honoring Our Pact Act would provide health benefits to 3.5 million vets exposed to the pits for numerous cancers and respiratory issues. It passed the House. Now, it needs the Senate.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to take it to a full vote this Congress during a press conference with veterans, lawmakers and activists like comedian Jon Stewart.

“Let’s dig a giant f***ing pit 10 acres long and burn everything in Washington with jet fuel, and then let me know how long they want to wait before they think it’s gonna cause some health problems,” Stewart said.

As for Padrone, his conditions have been linked by a doctor to burn pit exposure, and right now, the VA covers asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis related to that.

“I feel kinda like a drowning sensation in my lungs sometimes,” he said.

He did undergo surgery to breathe easier and health issues aside, he says, “I have no regrets of going over there. I would do it again.”

He’s proud to serve despite the unexpected and lasting effects on his health.

President Biden says he doesn’t want to repeat mistakes made after Vietnam related to Agent Orange. He did say he believes burn pits may have caused the brain cancer that killed his son Beau, an Iraq War veteran who died in 2015.

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