Dear United States Government
Dear United States Government,
My name is Daniel Lee Meyer and I am 27 years of age. I served in the United States Air Force for nearly six years and served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I suffer from a terminal lung illness called Bronchiolitis Obliterans which I obtained from being exposed to toxic burn pits on our military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have many questions as to why this happened to me, but let’s just focus on the big picture.
Tens of thousands of military personnel, civilian contractors, and local civilians have been put at risk by these burn pits. Allowing these toxic burn pits to operate so close to military personnel’s workplace and living quarters was a lack of judgement to say the least. Now, many veterans are seriously ill or have passed away due to the toxicity of materials that were being burned. In my case, its left me on oxygen for the rest of my life, in a wheelchair due to large tumors in my legs, and a seriously deteriorated quality of life. Regardless, I’m still proud to have served our great country and would repeat everything the same way, even with knowing the consequences to my health. Still, who should be held liable for this atrocity?
What makes everything worse is how badly I’ve been treated by the military and the VA throughout my entire illness.
Here is my story:
Although my injuries are apparent now (I’m attached to an oxygen tube and in a wheelchair), in the beginning they were considered “invisible”. I wasn’t shot, struck by a mortar or rocket, or injured by an IED. I didn’t lose a limb and wasn’t airlifted out of the combat due to injuries. Instead, my injuries manifested inside me for years. While others receive purple hearts and commendations, I received malice and ill-contempt. But how is my injury any less worthy of your attention? Why was I ridiculed, instead of supported?
I spent eight grueling months being poked, prodded, and called a liar by military doctors. I endured some of the worst breathing problems you could imagine. I experienced terrible bouts of insomnia, constant episodes of bloody sputum being hacked up, the lining of my throat tearing from endless coughing, and coughing so violent that breathing was nearly impossible. Doctors at the Mike O’Callahan Federal Hospital on Nellis AFB, NV diagnosed me with everything from lung cancer to everything being in my head. A mere figment of my imagination? Still, it continued to get worse.
I was punished at work for “faking” an illness because there was no diagnosis. I was ordered to work in a position where I handed out toxic chemicals and tools as my duties. A civilian Pulmonologist who was working towards a diagnosis with me wrote a letter to my military doctors and leadership within my squadron stating I should be “completely absent from any industrial work environment.” They all completely ignored it and denied ever seeing it. In my new position at work, the fumes from the materials I handed out made my condition progress exponentially faster because of the blatant disregard for my health. On multiple occasions, I was found lying on the floor, puking my guts up from having a severe reaction to the chemicals I was needlessly being exposed to.
Next, came the Air Force physical fitness test. I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs or go five minutes without coughing so hard I would be sick, but without a diagnosis I was expected to perform at full capacity. The first test I attempted, after five or six sit-ups, I coughed until I was sick. Now, I was deemed lazy and out of shape. I returned to my Pulmonologist who wrote another letter stating I was in no way physically able to perform my fitness tests. Again, my military doctor denied the letter and sent me back to work. It took me going to patient advocacy and filing a complaint against that doctor in order to be placed on the proper medical profile.
At that point, I still didn’t have a diagnosis and was getting sicker and sicker by the day. Soon, I would have some answers.
In February 2011, I underwent a very painful lung biopsy and was diagnosed with Bronchiolitis Obliterans. A very rare terminal lung disease that is progressive, untreatable, and incurable. All I could do is wait and see if it continued to get worse. After eight weeks of recovery from surgery, I attempted to return to work. However, the condition was continuing to progress which made ever the commute to work difficult. Shortly thereafter, I was placed on full time oxygen and was told it would be required for the rest of my life.
It took getting to this point with my medical problems before my squadron finally placed me in an administrative type position. Unfortunately, the problems continued to get worse.
Due to my lungs failing, my heart began trying to pump oxygen into my body. This shot my resting heart rate up to 180 beats per minute and I was quickly put on medications to slow it back down before it became inefficient. Then in June 2011, fatty tumors formed in my knees, making walking extremely challenging. My immediate supervisor finally stepped up and told me it was unrealistic for me to come to work anymore and to stay home and rest. If they needed me, they would call. For a month or two, I was finally able to stay at home and tend to the medical conditions that were quickly debilitating me as I waited for my retirement paperwork. But, it surely could not end here.
My active duty case manager found out I wasn’t working and demanded a full inquiry as to why. I started receiving phone calls and e-mails telling me that I was abusing the system and that I was no longer contributing to the “team”. “How is it fair that others have to make up for your absence,” they would ask me. By this time, I was almost completely unable to walk and obviously still on oxygen. Then came the bombshell.
I was being ordered to undergo a physical assessment at the Health and Wellness Center on base to determine my work capabilities. What would I be able to do you might wonder? Well, according to the case manager, make a full return to the flight line. That’s right. They were ordering me back to turning wrenches on the flight line when I could no longer walk and was unable to breathe without an oxygen tank by my side. It was the most demoralizing thing I had ever experienced in my life. They were going to literally work me to death.
I was forced to contact Congresswoman Shelley Berkley’s office. I explained to her office the details of my situation and they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They offered to do anything possible to help me and were appalled at how the Air Force had been treating me. Just days later, I received the medical board decision when I was told it would be many months before it came and that’s why they wanted me back to work. I was awarded a 100% disability rating, was given homebound status, and was scheduled to be medically retired just three weeks later. I informed the Congresswoman’s office and they let me know if I needed anything at all to contact them.
October 1, 2011 I was honorably medically retired as a Staff Sergeant, E-5, from the United States Air Force.
I thought entering the VA system would help alleviate my issues and work toward treating some of my conditions, instead the problems have continued to compound, wreaking havoc on my mind, body, and spirit.
To be continued.….