(KUTV) — Carl Sullivan served his country in the military for 31 years. It’s service that, he says, left him with a war injury. At 55 years old, while staying in Park City, Sullivan was rushed to the hospital unable to breathe. His diagnosis was that he’d had an asthma attack.
Sullivan had never had an asthma attack before.
"Judging from the way things were in Afghanistan, we think it was likely due to the deployment,” he said.
Sullivan is referring to the way they took out the trash. Military contractors threw all the base’s garbage in a massive open air burn pit and lit it on fire.
“They just burned whatever they had," Sullivan said. “Everything, you name it, just putting it in a pit and burning it."
The V.A. has declared Sullivan a 30 percent disabled veteran, which he says helps him get the treatment he needs.
Other vets are not as fortunate, according to records from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs obtained by Get Gephardt. Since 2007, of the 11,581 soldiers who filed claims for burn pit-related illnesses, a mere 2,318 were granted. That means about four of every five claims are denied.
The stories of injuries inspired Tori Seals to write a song called “Burn Pits." Seals’ husband, Jay, tended burn pits in Afghanistan and ended up with cancer.
The stories also inspired a filmmaker, Gregory Lovett, to direct "Delay, Deny, Hope You Die," a documentary about burn pits and their after-effects. It is currently available on Amazon Prime.
The stories also inspired a burn pit registry. At last count, 167,800 men and women have added their names to the list — some with respiratory issues, and others with more serious diseases, including cancer.
Adding insult to injury, Sullivan says Congress has been slow to act acknowledging the problem and making sure soldiers who are suffering can get the help they need and deserve.
"We need to provide compensation for those who were impacted by this," he said.
This isn't an issue that's new to Congress. In 2017, a bill to study the effects of burn pits was passed, but it provided no financial or medical support.
Another bill called the "Burn Pits Accountability Act" was introduced in 2018 in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and introduced again just last month. It has more than 100 co-sponsors. None are from Utah.
The bill is assigned to the House Armed Services Committee. Utah Representative Rob Bishop is a member of that committee. He declined to comment for this story, but his spokesperson said his staff is monitoring the issue.
Get Gephardt also reached out to Utah Representative Chris Stewart, an Air Force man who often tackles issues on behalf of the military and veterans. In a statement, he called burn pits, "a necessary evil."
"Open burning on remote military installations, though primitive, has been a necessary evil. However, I know we can do better,” he wrote. “I am encouraged by the new technologies that are emerging as alternatives to open burning. It is promising to see this transition to the 21st Century."
Stewart added that military service members who have been exposed to toxins that damaged their health should get the help that they need.
Many veterans have struggled to get the help they have requested.
On the Veteran Administration’s website, it says "research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits."
Burn pits are still being used in the battlefield, though the Department of Defense tells Get Gephardt it tries to "minimize" their use "whenever feasible."