A U.S. Army veteran who served as a sergeant in Iraq was diagnosed with leukemia linked to his constant exposure to burn pits at his base. The pits were used to burn waste such as petroleum and medical waste. The burning of these materials released carcinogenic chemicals like benzene.
In March 2010, Ryan Goggin had been deployed for 10 months. A roadside bomb hit his truck, causing a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that forced his military career to come to a halt. But it wasn’t the war that scared him. It was the cancer.
“I wasn’t scared in the Army,” Goggin said. “I wasn’t scared in Iraq. I wasn’t scared. But when they told me I had leukemia, I was scared.”
Goggin was a healthy 29-year-old when he suddenly became so weak that paramedics rushed him to the Miami VA hospital. He was transported to the University of Miami Hospital where the diagnosis became clear: he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a dangerous and aggressive blood cancer.
Exposure to products containing benzene can cause life-threatening diseases including Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and aplastic Anemia. People are most commonly exposed to benzene, a key ingredient in gasoline, through inhalation. But it can also be absorbed through the skin. Once the chemical reaches the bloodstream, it affects the bone marrow and blood forming cells.
When Goggin’s doctor recommended a stem cell transplant, Goggin took out his own insurance policy. He moved his family near the University of Pennsylvania, where the insurance was accepted, so that he could have the stem cell transplant there. He didn’t feel confident about having the transplant at the Nashville transplant center where the Department of Veterans Affairs had officially transferred him, but the Department refused to pay for continued treatments or a transplant outside the VA hospital system. Goggin was left with little choice.
Goggin’s doctor wrote a letter to the VA advising, “Exposure to said chemicals has been associated with higher incidences of leukemia.”