The newly listed online ad was what I had been waiting over a month for: A medium-sized, late model SUV with low miles and with maintenance records well documented. The seller was also the original owner, and the ad said he was a disabled veteran, and that he and his wife now only needed one car.
In my mind I pictured the seller as an elderly man, having served perhaps in Korea or Vietnam. I figured he probably walked with a cane, and had a U.S. and Marine Corps flag displayed in his front yard. It was wrong of me to assume this, but as a child, all the veterans I saw looked like this, and I guess the memory carried itself into adulthood.
When I called about the car however, the guy who answered didn’t sound like an old man. I asked a few questions that were promptly answered, and I decided the car was worth taking a look at. My friend Steve picked me up, and we drove to the veteran’s home located in the Northwest part of the Vegas valley. The man who answered the door was 27 year old Daniel Meyer, and although he wasn’t an old man, he moved like one. An Air Force helicopter electrician and mechanic, Daniel served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and although he’s still technically considered to be on active duty by our U.S. military, Daniel is in absolutely no condition to work.
As he showed me the car, Daniel moved slowly as he pulled an oxygen canister behind him—it’s tubes running over his ears and to his nose, and then leading fifty-feet back to the concentrator unit located in his home. Daniel is on oxygen twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If he goes more than a few minutes without it, bad things start to happen. The government still has yet to approve financial coverage for his daily oxygen supply, so for now a local medical clinic is generously donating the necessity to the veteran.
Daniel explained to Steve and I that he’d been diagnosed with Bronchiolitis Obliterans, a rare and currently irreversible lung disease. Daniel said a double-lung transplant is needed, but because the disease has weakened his heart, he doesn’t qualify to be on the lung transplant waiting list. In short, Daniel was telling us his days were numbered.
How did this happen?
While in Afghanistan, Daniel was exposed to burn pits—open-air bonfires that burned such things as medical supplies, batteries, and plastics. Human limbs have even been thrown into burn pits—although done by the locals and not by our military. It was by inhaling these toxic and noxious fumes that Daniel became ill, and folks, that’s fucked up.
Watch a CBS News report on burn pits (the new Agent Orange) here.
I respect anyone who serves their country—either in combat or behind the scenes—but at least in combat, one knows taking a bullet is constantly in the cards. Out on the front lines one knows that getting shot, killed, paralyzed, or losing a limb is possible, and that it’s part of the risk that comes with enlisting. However, being a helicopter mechanic inside a hangar—and on an Air Force base—should provide a certain sense of security, and the last thing one should have to worry about is getting a deadly and rare lung disease.
I don’t know all the statistics and numbers, but it’s safe to say over five-hundred—and perhaps even thousands—of our service men and women have been affected by exposure to these burn pits. Some only have minor issues—such as treatable allergy symptoms—but others, like Daniel, have suffered the full brunt of the disease. From what I saw—and Steve agreed with me—not coming home from such a war alive would be considered a better alternative than having to face the future with this debilitating and unrelentless affliction. Daniel would probably disagree because he has such a positive attitude, a great sense of humor, and is facing his battle head-on, and with extreme courage and faith.
Daniel is also a writer, and just started blogging at DanielMeyerBlog.com. His posts are well written, interesting, insightful and informative. I highly suggest reading his three-part series about how he met his awesome wife of over two years, Harmonie, and how after just knowing each other for only a week, got married. Check out his other posts too, and leave Daniel a comment. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.
Not only did I buy the car that Daniel is no longer capable to drive, but I also got something much more worthy and valuable—that being a humbling reminder not to take life and health for granted, and the reaffirmation that all war is indeed Hell, and it’s affect—both physically and mentally—will last much longer than any deafening silence from any weapon.
Thanks Daniel, and the car has been everything you said it would be.