Episode 1 The

Burn pits were standard military practice during the wars we waged in the Middle East and now tens of thousands of our veterans say they’re suffering from respiratory diseases, cancers, and other illnesses caused by exposure to the toxic black smoke they create. That’s awful enough, but the Department of Veterans Affairs also routinely refuses to acknowledge that these illnesses are connected to veterans’ service and denies them benefits.

Scroll down to explore why that’s happening and how we can change it.

Leading the charge

Meet the founders of Burn Pits 360

Army Reserve Captain Le Roy Torres served in Balad, Iraq, where there was a 10-acre burn pit. After returning home in 2008, he was diagnosed with constrictive bronchiolitis and toxic brain injury, both of which have had a devastating impact and have changed his family’s life forever.

His wife Rosie spent 23 years working for the VA, so if anyone should have been able to navigate the system, it’d be her! But their experience seeking benefits was so long and hellish, and took such a financial toll, that she vowed to help other people in the same situation. In 2010, the couple formed Burn Pits 360, where Rosie serves as Executive Director. If you want to learn more about Burn Pits 360's advocacy, visit their website or follow them on Twitter.

The government doesn't give a damn about us once we're out. Once you're out, they do not care.

The burn pit victim who's running for Congress

Isiah James is a retired infantryman who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Part of his job was to work on the burn pits, stirring trash and human waste. When he returned home he faced serious health issues as a result of his service, and he learned just how ineffective the VA's system for caring for veterans was. He began to fight for better care for himself and his friends who served. Isiah is now running for Congress in New York's 9th District and now serves as a senior policy advisor for the Black Veterans Project.