Updated: April 26, 2021 05:59 PM
Created: April 26, 2021 04:28 PM
Julie Tomaska wrapped up a 22 year military career with the 148th Fighter Wing. It included two tours in Iraq at Balad Air Base, where she was exposed to toxic burn pits.
"It was alarming to a lot of us, and we sort of knew something would come of it. We never really fully understood the full ramifications of what it meant," she shared.
For her, it means living with serious and permanent lung damage, diagnosed after a lung biopsy. "There's still metals in my lungs, from the deployments in 2005 and 2007. That's the most jarring thing they found," she said. "People with my conditions end up on oxygen, which is hard to grapple with."
She's now the chair of the Scientific Committee for the Burn Pits 360 group. The group is fighting to help veterans like Julie get coverage and care for their conditions.
"I spent over 2 years going back and forth with the VA, to have it denied. There's no reason. I meet all the guidelines. It's just a complex system to have to navigate," she shared.
There's a concerted effort to change that system, so veterans with certain conditions can get the coverage and benefits they need.
There are bills that will be heard this week in a Senate committee. And she's feeling optimistic something can be done this year. "It's really a top issue for veterans in 2021. I feel good about where we're headed with the eight bills."
Jon Stewart is an outspoken supporter of helping veterans, and recently spoke in DC at a press conference. "You spend your time when you come back home, basically as a defendant, in a trial for your own health care," he said.
The pushback in Congress, according to Tomaska, is the cost. But some of them, like her best friend, Amie Muller, have paid with their lives. Amie was a member of the 148th Fighter Wing as well. She died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 36. She had been exposed to burn pits as well.
"It's something none of us expected. It's sneaking up on us and catching up with people. And it's important we talk about it. It's a delayed casualty. We're all delayed casualties," Tomaska added.
For more info about Burn Pits 360:
And other efforts to help veterans:
Amie Muller Foundation:
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