tv America Tonight Al Jazeera May 22, 2015 10:00pm-10:31pm EDT
compete in the show. 10,000 will see it in person. 2 million are expected to tune in. >> that is it for this international hour. >> i'm barbara serra, thank you for watching. >> see you again in an hour. on a special eldition of "america tonight", honouring the broken soldiers. >> i want people to know that the war doesn't end when the guns are silenced. i want them to know that a long time coming but a salute to disabled veterans. also tonight - how did a veteran's hospital become the center of a great disservice to our nation's bravest defenders. christopher putzel inside the
wisconsin hospital known as candiland and shocking evidence of what was hidden in the fiery pits of afghanistan and iraq and why it may have poisoned our soldiers. >> a lot of people say it is our generalations agent orange "america tonight"s sheila macvicar on the dangers concealed in flames. thank for joining us i'm joie chen. as memorial day approaches we consider the sacrifices of our veterans, we be given with veterans from iraq and afghanistan. those that have physical wounds of war and life-long psychological scars. there is concern that the military should recognise their wounds from poisons they were exposed to in the line of duty. "america tonight"'s sheila macvicar vets what many believe will be the toxic legacy of iraq
and afghanistan. >> i have lost a lot. i don't like being like this. >> reporter: 35-year-old antony thornton suffers a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer. >> i could not tell you my wife's middle name or my daughter's. i don't remember everybody's name. >> reporter: doctors had to take out part of his brain, his left temporal lobe. he has trouble speaking and can't read and has trouble keeping up with his 3-year-old daughter. thornton believes he was sick from tox jips he was ex -- toxins he was exposed to while serving his country. >> there he goes. >> massive open air burn fits operated on u.s. military bases
across iraq and afghanistan. at the height of the wars more than 250 bases burnt their trash. releasing large plumes of black smoke into the air. during the day time it was solid black. you could smell it. depending on where the sun was, it would - it was so thick, it would block some of the sun. >> he worked as a prison guard at camp buca. he said smoke from burn pits lingered above living quarters. three years after he came home doctors found the tumor. >> it produced a lot of compounds, a lot of dioxins. for example, benzene. and a lot of ben zone-like substances were produced. it is a known human carcinogen.
>> kerry baker is a former veterans' affairs officials who analysed the toxins found in smoke. since he left the agency he has been fighting to get the department of defense and v.a. to recognise that burn pit exposure sickened veterans. some were dying. we had claims from videos -- widows we have claims from young guys who have diabetes lymphoma or leukaemia. >> he is representing 31-year-old rodney weise, who lived a quarter of a mile from the burn pit. it covered several acres. everything, plastic, human waste, batteries, tyres, paint, old refrigerators went into the fire. >> they'd use j.p. 8 jet fuel to set it on fire. there was always a yellow haze over the base. everywhere you talked to had
respiratory issues with it. >> reporter: for seven years doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong until he had a lung biopsy. >> it showed that i had titanium alum numb iron chromium, steel, silica in my lungs. there's nowhere else i could have got metals in my lung. i never worked in anything that would have exposed me to that. >> he was diagnosed with bronchial itis a rare lung disease. >> i get short-winded. it's like sucking through a small straw. >> we have been seeing a population of patients with an unexpected shortage of breath. >> dr robert miller is a pulmonologist at the university. at his clinic he began to see
veterans with mysterious problems. to solve the mystery dr miller performed lung biopsies on his patients, one of the first doctors to do so. his diagnosis, consfricted bronchial itis. >> is it something you would find in a healthy person a person fit for deployment? >> no it's an uncommon diagnosis in an otherwise healthy individual. dr miller says burn pits are an explanation. when he presented his findings to dod they stopped sending him patients. >> we know people are sick. we are trying to determine whether the burn pits are responsible. >> reporter: the department of defense top official says they looked at studies and found no link to burn pits for long-term health effects. >> we looked at several thousands individuals, service members assigned to locations
with burn pits versus locations without burn pits. we looked at that data and were unable to find a risk. the military needs to recognise that small airways disease could be linked to exposure in iraq and afghanistan. and should be treated like other battlefield injuries. >> we comment people for p.t.s.d. we should compensate people who lost 70" of their air waves, and can no longer climb a flight of stares. >> it's not just veterans diagnosed with this disease. tony was a civilian contractor working as a firefighter and paramedic in iraq and afghanistan.
>> diagnosed with asthma and small airways disease. i can walk it's hard to run or swim. >> maddox said he was exposed to a burn pit in afghanistan. there's a toyota with battery, seats, tires, gallon drums of i don't know what. at 41 years old he had to abandon his career as a responder. >> the e.p.a. says burning trash is bad, and so does every environmental agency for every state in the union. >> reporter: we spoke to other contractors who believe missions from burn pits made them sick costing them their careers. many have not been able to get examination for their illnesses. they have to rely on private insurance or a federal compensation programme that they say usually rejects their
claims. the insurance company that covers maddox paid part of his bills, telling him there wasn't enough evidence to link his injuries to burn pit. >> they weren't hit by enemy fire, they come home but within months they die from cancer. completely preventible. it's heart-breaking. >> reporter: susan bourke is a baltimore-based lawsuit, leading a lawsuit against the contract yore hired to get -- contractor hired to get rid of base. she says kdr need to foot the bill for anyone sickened. >> the company received over a billion for logistical support, not just waste. they received the money if they didn't perform on the contracts. they didn't bring in the incinerators. they are not the military they are not public servants they
are a for-profit enterprise. they declined to comment. regardless, the first step is getting the military to recognise its responsibility. all the burning was done wrong and everything knows that. >> we met other people that have been affected and, you know a lot of people are saying that it's our generations agent orange. >> thornton's wife jamie says her husband feels betrayed. after serving his country for more than 10 years. here are these people going and risking so much and forgo so much for our country. and our country, you know. >> reporter: with more and more veterans and contractors coming forward claiming that burn pits made them sick pressure on the
military and veterans' affairs is mounting some heart-breaking news. we met tony thornton the young father. we are sorry to report that he lost his final battle last week spending his last few days in hospice. he is survived by his wife jaynie and two young daughters. next on "america tonight" a hospital meant to serve our veterans. >> everywhere there is drugs. >> right. >> these are all - every one is a medication that could be prescribed. >> "america tonight"s christopher putzel with a look at the v.a. hospital termed candiland later, the long journey of many that served and survived in lives changed by war.
the veterans administration. the v.a. holds itself out as buying proud of those it serves. in recent months, mismanagement, poor treatment led to the ouster of its chief and scrutiny of the v.a. now the death of a young patient at a v.a. hospital exposed other flaws. christopher putzel found it is a tragedy bound to raise questions on how to fix the v.a. >> i never thought he would dive marve and linda lost their son last august. the 35-year-old former marine didn't die in a combat zone but at a medical center near his
home in central wisconsin. >> we wept in his room he was laying sleeping with his hand on his side on his head. i said "jason what's the matter with you." i said "jason i can't understand you." i went to the nurse's stakes and said what's wrong with him -- station and said "what's wrong with him, he can't talk?" she said we gave him medication for a migraine he'll be all right in a couple of hours later. >> reporter: but he wasn't. he stopped breathing. the hospital said his death was caused by an aneurysm. an autopsy revealed mixed drug toxicity toxicity. every one is a medication the v.a. prescribed to them. >> reporter: the medical examiner found 13 drugs in his system. >> they had him so drugged up.
he took a drug to get up get going, and drugs ot night to make him sleep. >> reporter: jason was one veteran treated at a hospital where many patients were kept doped up on high amounts of opiates. it had been a difficult journey for jason after four years in the marines enned in 2002. he was married and had a daughter. and joined marve in the family construction business building homes in steven's point wisconsin. but an addiction to pain medication, a result of an injury from a service, led him to years of treatment at the v.a. one witness to jason's last day was a former v.a. housekeeper, speaking out for the first time about what she saw. >> he seemed fine. he was mumbling i didn't think anything of it. he was on a ward where people don't die. in an outward.
>> reporter: christian knew the tomah not just as an employee, but a patient. she had received treatment on the same ward. >> i took his trash out. i shut his door. two hours later he was dead. it was bad. they went running around everywhere. so confused. screaming, yelling. i stayed out of the way, watching the whole thing. >> the death of jason and the subsequent report by the center for investigative reporting set off a fire storm. in january, bob mcdonald secretary of veteran affairs announced a few and practice. including allegations of overmedication and accusations of retaliatory behaviour. at the heart of many of the allegations the chief of staff, psychiatrist dr david high schoola han -- hoolahan.
"america tonight" reached out to dr huli han for comment. our requests went to toma v.a. and they said it was up to the doctor. five months before jason was found dead of drug toxicity a report was released saying the chief of staff was prescribing an abnormal amount of opiates to patients. shouldn't that be a red flag? >> we took seriously the issues raised in the report and took action to address the report recommendations, including redreting the chief of -- redirecting the chief of staff and patient mode and high patient mode to another provider. >> the v.a. announced results to a clinical review and found unsafe practices in pain management and psychiatric care.
the prescribing of high doses of opiates at 2.5 times the national average and a culture of fear compromising patient care. >> those findings came too late. >> reporter: did you voice concerns about how much medication he was taking? >> yes. >> all the time you did. >> reporter: was there a conversation about reducing medication? >> i fought for a reduction. seemed like i always lost. >> marve and lina how to press for change there and across the system, to honour the service and sacrifice of their son. >> the v.a. inspector general expects to release a final report by the end of this month. dr hoolihan was placed on leave pending the outcome. the toma v.a. released a 30 day plan to improve communications between veterans and staff. some say it's too little too
late on this memorial day weekend - honouring the sacrifice of survivors, the newest memorial salutes america's broken warriors. why this monument was a long time coming. overprotect - next week correspondent sheila macvicar vets how your rights could be limited when the state becomes a guardian. is it for your own good or no good at all. that's tuesday on "america tonight". >> it's not looking pretty. i gotta pay my bills. >> you gotta do somethin', you know? try to keep your head above water. >> sunday... $38. thursday... $36. for this kind of money i really don't give a s**t. >> a real look at the american dream.
about how we honour duty and sacrifice, this memorial day in the nation's capital. america will rally around the national memorial two disabled vets, broken warriors brothers in arms finally getting a long overdue salute. >> reporter: it is possible for a man to lose half of his wellbeing and become whole. >> reporter: what echos here is the words of survivors, in a city known for its memorials to the dead. it rightly honours the sacrifice of men and women. this is the first monument to recognise the wound. physical and emotional of those returning from battle forever changed. >> when you are young, you are invincible immortal.
i thought i would come back. perhaps i wouldn't. there was that thought too. i had this feeling that i would come back. >> why so many quotes. what was the thinking? >> well, we wanted to express different thoughts in the veterans journey. we wanted to express their call to service. we want to express what it was like to be injured. we wanted to express what it was like in healing and rediscovery in life. >> they are the voices often unheard. the sacrifices that play out over a lifetime. long after the guns fell silent. >> i was naive and cluless about the horrors that war can inflict on human being minds and bodies. lois pope was a star the when -- star-let when she signed
on to entertain veterans. >> as i walked into that room i saw young men lying on gernies, hobbling on crutches. >> reporter: between. >> without limps. some burnt so badly all over their body. eyes that were sockets. no ears. i brought with me the song somewhere from west side story, it was a popular blow. i nervously began to sing that song. i got to the line held myhand "hold my hand", and i reached out to hold a young soldiers hand and he had no hand for he to hold. i thought when i left okay if i can, i want to do something for disabled veterans. i promised myself that i would. >> reporter: inspired by a visit to the vietnam vat reasons
memorial, she began a journey to make good on that promise. six years later the blame has been lit. this is for the 4 million living veterans, and the hundreds of thousands that died before them. i want people to know that the cost of war doesn't end with the guns of silence. disabled veterans battle every day. every day. >> pope helped to raise money. donated some of her own, lobbied congress and the then secretary of veterans' affairs, jessie brown, whose worth are also here. >> for every tragic story of a life unravelled by battle there are a dozen trails that triumphed over the harrowing experiences of war and ruin. >> reporter: the rows of transloosents glass have 18 quotes etched into them and
images. depicting stories of servicemen and women. >> i felt alone watching what was happening. by this point i knew i was hurt. i wanted to find someone from my company. >> reporter: the project director gave us a tour. you talk about the glass. it's not just pretty glass, it's meant to tell us something. >> the glass - this is star-fired glass, and has a strength to it but has a fragility to it. there's two meanings the strength of the glass and the fragility. they have been wounded. they came back. >> the memorial was designed and to give them a place to pause and reflect. >> this memorial has a lot to do with reflection and light. we have a star fountain with a
flame in the middle symbolizing the fire in the grove, in the grove of the soldiers. >> after more than a decade of battles in iraq and afghanistan, the number of disabled veterans grew 45% since 2000. >> i want our elected representatives to realise the human cost of war, and think twice before sending troops to battle. >> reporter: the memorial is located in the shadow of capitol hill, and pope says she believes it will be a call to action. >> every day life goes on. every day for them is a life of pain. it is. i want people to know that. before i watched my limbs, i was half a man. now we have developed some humility. >> before, i only looked at
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