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The Burn Pits

The Poisoning of America's Soldiers

Foreword by Jesse Ventura / Introduction by David Talbot

“There’s a whole chapter on my son Beau… He was co-located [twice] near these burn pits.”
–Joe Biden, former Vice President of the United States of America

The Agent Orange of the 21st Century… Thousands of American soldiers are returning from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan with severe wounds from chemical war. They are not the victims of ruthless enemy warfare, but of their own military commanders. These soldiers, afflicted with rare cancers and respiratory diseases, were sickened from the smoke and ash swirling out of the “burn pits” where military contractors incinerated mountains of trash, including old stockpiles of mustard and sarin gas, medical waste, and other toxic material.

This shocking work, now for the first time in paperback, includes:

  • Illustration of the devastation in one soldier’s intimate story
  • A plea for help
  • Connection between the burn pits and Major Biden’s unfortunate suffering and death
  • The burn pits’ effects on native citizens of Iraq: mothers, fathers, and children
  • Denial from the Department of Defense and others
  • Warning signs that were ignored
  • and much more

    Based on thousands of government documents, over five hundred in-depth medical case studies, and interviews with more than one thousand veterans and active-duty GIs, The Burn Pits will shock the nation. The book is more than an explosive work of investigative journalism—it is the deeply moving chronicle of the many young men and women who signed up to serve their country in the wake of 9/11, only to return home permanently damaged, the victims of their own armed forces’ criminal negligence.
  • Foreword
    By Jesse Ventura

    It’s no secret what a disaster our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been. The Islamic State is a whole lot more of a problem than Saddam Hussein ever was, and the Taliban sure as hell hasn’t gone away. Let’s face it, George Bush and Dick Cheney were the worst administration in the United States’ history. They ruined the economy, they got us into two wars, and they left things a complete mess that Barack Obama inherited.

    But just when you thought the story couldn’t get any worse, along comes The Burn Pits. This is a book that will not only make your blood boil, it’ll coagulate. I mean, blood-curdling isn’t a strong enough metaphor. It’s not bad enough that, since the Iraq War began in 2003, almost 5,000

    American troops have died and 32,000 more “officially” wounded (some estimates place that figure at more than 100,000). Or that more than 2,300 U.S. military deaths have occurred in Afghanistan. Or that an estimated 320,000 veterans have brain injuries, and the suicide rate among vets is escalating by the day.

    It’s not bad enough that the entire fiasco in Iraq was based on a lie—that Saddam was supposedly just itching to use an arsenal of WMD’s unless we moved on him fast. You’ll learn in this book that Iraq did once use chemical and biological weapons, against Iran and then the Kurds – but the Bush-Cheney people had their reasons for erasing that memory and claiming instead that the threat was new.

    Why? Because the terrible truth is, those Iraqi leftovers that ended up in the dump were responsible for poisoning our own soldiers. And American contractors were the ones who spewed it into the air. The top military brass knew about this health disaster, and looked the other way. It didn’t seem to be cost-effective to do anything else – so burn, baby, burn.

    I don’t want to give away the whole story, because it should unfold slowly and infuriatingly, as it did for me. The author, Former Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman, was a loyal member of our armed forces for 20 years. In service to our country, he earned more than 20 commendations and awards. Well, he’s recently done his patriotic duty by exposing the murders of three detainees in U.S. custody at Guantánamo, where Hickman served in 2006. Now with The Burn Pits, he’s blown the whistle even louder.

    You’ve heard about Agent Orange in Vietnam, which resulted in tens of thousands of people including our troops getting cancer. It’s likely you also know about Gulf War Illness, which the Pentagon now admits afflicts close to 100,000 of our veterans. That’s a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, memory loss, and respiratory problems. Some call these “delayed casualties.” But try using that polite phrase on the brave men and women who are still being refused benefits by the VA’s powers-that-be for the debilitating illnesses that have plagued them ever since serving their country. Instead, call them “denied casualties.”

    I doubt most of you have heard of Balad or Bagram, or soldiers like Daniel Mayer and Matthew Bumpus. You will now, and the stories will sicken you. You also may not know that KBR – Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a former subsidiary of Dick Cheney’s Halliburton Company – was the number one corporate beneficiary of the Iraq War. A lot of those millions were generated by operation of the toxic “burn pits”—and Halliburton shareholder Cheney was among those who cashed in.

    In 2015 Vice-President Joe Biden’s beloved son, Beau, who’d served a tour of duty in Iraq, died of brain cancer. But you can bet the big media haven’t dared speculate about, let alone investigate, the real cause, which as you’ll see is likely connected to being stationed at two of the burn pits. One of them was Camp Victory, which is beyond ironic.

    The Burn Pits pulls no punches. You’ll read about the Veterans Administration claiming that the soldiers seeking legitimate benefits for their health problems were either lying or making it all up. You’ll learn about the buck-passing and how the military can’t be held legally accountable for what’s happened to the men and women exposed to a toxic soup at 75 different bases. You’ll discover a few heroes, too, like the courageous doctors who’ve dared to speak out about how the respiratory ailments and cancers are no coincidence.

    I served my country for eight years as a Navy SEAL, and my parents before me in the Second World War. We all believed in freedom and democracy. It took a long time for me to consider that maybe we are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave, that money and power have corrupted everything America once stood for.

    Can we turn back the clock in order to move toward a better future? I don’t know. What I do know is that exposing the truth in books like Joseph Hickman’s The Burn Pits is a wake-up call to all of us that we’d better rise up and reclaim our birthright as Americans. And maybe there’s a Smedley Butler out there among the veterans of our ill-conceived wars who is ready to help lead us out of the quagmire.

    Joseph Hickman spent most of his life in the military, first as a Marine, then as a soldier in both the Army and the National Guard. He has deployed on several military operations throughout the world, sometimes attached to foreign militaries. The recipient of more than twenty commendations and awards, he was awarded the Army Achievement Medal and the Army Commendation Medal while he was stationed with the 629th Military Intelligence Battalion in Guantanamo Bay. He is currently working as freelance journalist covering national security issues, and corporate fraud. He is also an independent researcher, and Senior Research Fellow at Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Policy and Research. His revelations about the abuse of prisoners at Gitmo resulted in a National Magazine Award–winning story in Harper’s magazine and a 2015 book, Murder at Camp Delta. He has also written for Newsweek, TIME, VICE News, and Al-Jazeera America.

    There’s a whole chapter on my son Beau in there, and that stunned me… [Hickman] went back and looked at Beau’s tenure as a civilian with the U.S. attorney’s office [in Kosovo] and then his year in Iraq. And he was co-located in both times near these burn pits.”
    –Joe Biden, former Vice President of the United States of America

    Shocking and ugly. Glad this story is finally coming out.”
    –Oliver Stone, Academy Award-winning Director

    “The first 10 pages of The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers will rip your heart out.”
    –Liam O’Donoghue, Salon

    “[A]n incredibly powerful, painful book…[the] tragic saga is presented in a way that a reader can’t possibly come away either disbelieving or unmoved. This is a REAL service to our country and I commend Joseph Hickman for bringing the terrible story to light. [I] believe this will serve as a call-to-action for the veterans and all those who care about their plight.”
    –Dick Russell, New York Times bestselling author

    “Joseph Hickman’s The Burn Pits is a wake-up call to all of us that we’d better rise up and reclaim our birthright as Americans… This is a book that will not only make your blood boil, it’ll coagulate. I mean, blood-curdling isn’t a strong enough metaphor. The Burn Pits pulls no punches.”
    –Jesse Ventura, New York Times bestselling author

    “Though the underlying cause of [Vice President Joe Bide’s son, Beau Biden]’s cancer cannot be confirmed, evidence gathered in [The Burn Pits] suggests a possible link between his illness and service.”
    –Lauren Walker, The Guardian

    “In The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers, Joseph Hickman, a former U.S. Marine and Army sergeant gives a stunning expose of the ongoing health disaster created by the open-air burn pits on military bases throughout Afghanistan and Iraq, calling them the Agent Orange scandal of our day.”
    –James Baumann, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

    “[Former Vice President Joe Biden] said that reading The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiersopened his eyes to the possibility of a link to his son’s cancer.”
    –Dan Sagalyn, PBS NewsHour, Deputy Foreign Affairs and Defense Editor

    Thought provoking, sobering, and infuriating at the same time, The Burn Pits hits the mark on many levels… It was the Vietnam War’s Agent Orange all over again blended with the acrid fallout of the World Trade Center’s ‘Ground Zero’… “
    –James Grundvig, The Epoch Times

    An important book.
    The Huffington Post

    [The Burn Pits] really shocked and angered me and I decided to try to bring the story of this crisis to a larger audience… We are trying to reach everybody. Most people have not heard about the crisis of the burn pits and ultimately we will need the general public to help create awareness of this tragic issue affecting thousands of soldiers so that they are ultimately recognized and compensated.”
    –Gregory Lovett, Film Director, Delay, Deny, Hope You Die, a documentary based on The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers

    “[This] incendiary book, The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers… [is] a provocative look behind the massive burn pits of Iraq and Afghanistan, detailing a chilling history of sickness and systematic neglect from higher ups… Hickman’s account is probably the most thorough and expansive take on burn pits so far, going so far as to implicate KBR, who ran the burn pits, and Gen. David Petraeus, who initially denied that burn pits were harmful.”
    –Scott Beauchamp, Task & Purpose

    The Burn Pits… tells an enormous story… An important book that should be on the shelf of every high school library across the United States.”
    –John Ketwig, The Veteran

    “There are a million reasons for Americans to read this devastating account of how we’re neglecting our veterans. The Burn Pits is extremely well-written, tightly structured, and Hickman’s compassion for his fellow soldiers is heartbreaking. But what few reviewers seem to be emphasizing is that Hickman is not just concerned about our veterans who are dying from the toxic plumes of the American burn pits. It’s not just Americans whose bodies are destroying themselves in a collective vertigo of white spots, leukemia, apnea, bronchitis, cold sweats, migraines, memory loss, nausea, and brain cancer. It’s not just Beau Biden… But what those mainstream publications fail to emphasize is the incredibly uncomfortable reality that Hickman describes with such vivid detail in The Burn Pits. In short, “Iraq is poisoned,” and America has been providing the toxins for years… If you are a citizen concerned with what both Sanders and Trump referred to as “the worst foreign policy blunder in U.S. history,” then you should read this book. The Burn Pits is a map for activism. If you are interested in solving one of the great health care problems of our time, read this book. If you are interested in helping American service members solve the political problem of bureaucratic resistance in the VA that dates back to the days of Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome, read this book.”
    –M. C. Armstrong, author and Pushcart Prize winner

    “The word “incinerate,” suggesting an enclosed burning facility with pollution controls, is misleading. These barbaric burn pits were dug on military bases in the midst of housing, work and dining facilities, with zero pollution controls… And predictably, base commanders temporarily shut them down when politicians and high-ranking generals came to visit… In his no-holds-barred book, The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers,” former Marine and Army Joseph Hickman exposes the knowing contamination of thousands of soldiers stationed on bases with these lethal pits.”
    –H. Patricia Hynes, TruthDig

    *** What readers are saying about The Burn Pits***

    “A chronicle of the mistreatment of our military men and women and of the neglect of our veterans. As the mother of two sons who served and a brother who died of cancer after Nam, I wanted to scream! Anyone thinking of joining the military should read this book first.
    –Barb LaPierre, Goodreads Reviewer

    “Nothing in this book can change what happened. But reading our story, told so brilliantly, fills me with gratitude that it is being told.”
    –Rick A., Amazon Reviewer

    “I thought the U.S. wrongly using chemicals and simultaneously poisoning its own soldiers ended with the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Joseph Hickman, a former US Marine and Army Sergeant tells the poignant and shocking story of the chemical war practiced on GIs in Iraq and Afghanistan—by their own commanding officers.”
    –Liz Edorssom, Goodreads Reviewer

    This book needs to be in every service members hands (active and veteran)! Good read, engaging and thought provoking. Buy this book!”
    –John Stoddard, Amazon Reviewer

    Everyone who cares about our veterans should read this well researched book about the toxic burn pits of the Middle East. We may have injured another generation of veterans and we need to fully investigate and help those affected, before it is too late for them.”
    –Bill Crowley, Amazon Reviewer

    “There are many disturbing facts in this book. At certain points, I couldn't quite believe what I was reading.
    –Jamie Rose, Goodreads Reviewer

    “Interesting and more anger toward our military and Congress. Agent Orange all over again. We need to hold the military accountable.”
    –Paul Kukuk, Goodreads Reviewer

    *** From author Joseph Hickman ***

    “We have tens of thousands of veterans right now that are sick or dying and no one is treating them right or taking care of them… I’ve donated my royalties to an organization called Burn Pits 360, so if you read the book, not only do you become aware of it, the money is actually going to a non-profit organization that will help these soldiers directly.”
    –Joseph Hickman, Blue Funk Radio

    “…KBR must provide compensation to sick veterans. It is what’s owed to the service members who selflessly went to war on behalf of the United States.”
    –Joseph Hickman, Vice News

    *** Praise for Skyhorse Publishing ***

    “In the era of corporate dominated mainstream media and feckless herd reporting, Skyhorse's willingness to tackle tough issues that other publishers won't touch has made it a critical cog in our democracy.”
    –Robert F. Kennedy Jr., New York Times bestselling author

    “It has been a pleasure watching Skyhorse Publishing develop into one of the largest and fastest-growing independent publishers over the last decade. Trident does a good deal of business with Skyhorse. Skyhorse has become a cornerstone of independent publishing and has taken its rightful seat in the world of major trade publishing.”
    –Robert Gottlieb, chairman of Trident Media Group, LLC

    There’s a whole chapter on my son Beau in there, and that stunned me… [Hickman] went back and looked at Beau’s tenure as a civilian with the U.S. attorney’s office [in Kosovo] and then his year in Iraq. And he was co-located in both times near these burn pits.”
    –Joe Biden, former Vice President of the United States of America

    Shocking and ugly. Glad this story is finally coming out.”
    –Oliver Stone, Academy Award-winning Director

    “The first 10 pages of The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers will rip your heart out.”
    –Liam O’Donoghue, Salon

    “[A]n incredibly powerful, painful book…[the] tragic saga is presented in a way that a reader can’t possibly come away either disbelieving or unmoved. This is a REAL service to our country and I commend Joseph Hickman for bringing the terrible story to light. [I] believe this will serve as a call-to-action for the veterans and all those who care about their plight.”
    –Dick Russell, New York Times bestselling author

    “Joseph Hickman’s The Burn Pits is a wake-up call to all of us that we’d better rise up and reclaim our birthright as Americans… This is a book that will not only make your blood boil, it’ll coagulate. I mean, blood-curdling isn’t a strong enough metaphor. The Burn Pits pulls no punches.”
    –Jesse Ventura, New York Times bestselling author

    “Though the underlying cause of [Vice President Joe Bide’s son, Beau Biden]’s cancer cannot be confirmed, evidence gathered in [The Burn Pits] suggests a possible link between his illness and service.”
    –Lauren Walker, The Guardian

    “In The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers, Joseph Hickman, a former U.S. Marine and Army sergeant gives a stunning expose of the ongoing health disaster created by the open-air burn pits on military bases throughout Afghanistan and Iraq, calling them the Agent Orange scandal of our day.”
    –James Baumann, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

    “[Former Vice President Joe Biden] said that reading The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiersopened his eyes to the possibility of a link to his son’s cancer.”
    –Dan Sagalyn, PBS NewsHour, Deputy Foreign Affairs and Defense Editor

    Thought provoking, sobering, and infuriating at the same time, The Burn Pits hits the mark on many levels… It was the Vietnam War’s Agent Orange all over again blended with the acrid fallout of the World Trade Center’s ‘Ground Zero’… “
    –James Grundvig, The Epoch Times

    An important book.
    The Huffington Post

    [The Burn Pits] really shocked and angered me and I decided to try to bring the story of this crisis to a larger audience… We are trying to reach everybody. Most people have not heard about the crisis of the burn pits and ultimately we will need the general public to help create awareness of this tragic issue affecting thousands of soldiers so that they are ultimately recognized and compensated.”
    –Gregory Lovett, Film Director, Delay, Deny, Hope You Die, a documentary based on The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers

    “[This] incendiary book, The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers… [is] a provocative look behind the massive burn pits of Iraq and Afghanistan, detailing a chilling history of sickness and systematic neglect from higher ups… Hickman’s account is probably the most thorough and expansive take on burn pits so far, going so far as to implicate KBR, who ran the burn pits, and Gen. David Petraeus, who initially denied that burn pits were harmful.”
    –Scott Beauchamp, Task & Purpose

    The Burn Pits… tells an enormous story… An important book that should be on the shelf of every high school library across the United States.”
    –John Ketwig, The Veteran

    “There are a million reasons for Americans to read this devastating account of how we’re neglecting our veterans. The Burn Pits is extremely well-written, tightly structured, and Hickman’s compassion for his fellow soldiers is heartbreaking. But what few reviewers seem to be emphasizing is that Hickman is not just concerned about our veterans who are dying from the toxic plumes of the American burn pits. It’s not just Americans whose bodies are destroying themselves in a collective vertigo of white spots, leukemia, apnea, bronchitis, cold sweats, migraines, memory loss, nausea, and brain cancer. It’s not just Beau Biden… But what those mainstream publications fail to emphasize is the incredibly uncomfortable reality that Hickman describes with such vivid detail in The Burn Pits. In short, “Iraq is poisoned,” and America has been providing the toxins for years… If you are a citizen concerned with what both Sanders and Trump referred to as “the worst foreign policy blunder in U.S. history,” then you should read this book. The Burn Pits is a map for activism. If you are interested in solving one of the great health care problems of our time, read this book. If you are interested in helping American service members solve the political problem of bureaucratic resistance in the VA that dates back to the days of Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome, read this book.”
    –M. C. Armstrong, author and Pushcart Prize winner

    “The word “incinerate,” suggesting an enclosed burning facility with pollution controls, is misleading. These barbaric burn pits were dug on military bases in the midst of housing, work and dining facilities, with zero pollution controls… And predictably, base commanders temporarily shut them down when politicians and high-ranking generals came to visit… In his no-holds-barred book, The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers,” former Marine and Army Joseph Hickman exposes the knowing contamination of thousands of soldiers stationed on bases with these lethal pits.”
    –H. Patricia Hynes, TruthDig

    *** What readers are saying about The Burn Pits***

    “A chronicle of the mistreatment of our military men and women and of the neglect of our veterans. As the mother of two sons who served and a brother who died of cancer after Nam, I wanted to scream! Anyone thinking of joining the military should read this book first.
    –Barb LaPierre, Goodreads Reviewer

    “Nothing in this book can change what happened. But reading our story, told so brilliantly, fills me with gratitude that it is being told.”
    –Rick A., Amazon Reviewer

    “I thought the U.S. wrongly using chemicals and simultaneously poisoning its own soldiers ended with the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Joseph Hickman, a former US Marine and Army Sergeant tells the poignant and shocking story of the chemical war practiced on GIs in Iraq and Afghanistan—by their own commanding officers.”
    –Liz Edorssom, Goodreads Reviewer

    This book needs to be in every service members hands (active and veteran)! Good read, engaging and thought provoking. Buy this book!”
    –John Stoddard, Amazon Reviewer

    Everyone who cares about our veterans should read this well researched book about the toxic burn pits of the Middle East. We may have injured another generation of veterans and we need to fully investigate and help those affected, before it is too late for them.”
    –Bill Crowley, Amazon Reviewer

    “There are many disturbing facts in this book. At certain points, I couldn't quite believe what I was reading.
    –Jamie Rose, Goodreads Reviewer

    “Interesting and more anger toward our military and Congress. Agent Orange all over again. We need to hold the military accountable.”
    –Paul Kukuk, Goodreads Reviewer

    *** From author Joseph Hickman ***

    “We have tens of thousands of veterans right now that are sick or dying and no one is treating them right or taking care of them… I’ve donated my royalties to an organization called Burn Pits 360, so if you read the book, not only do you become aware of it, the money is actually going to a non-profit organization that will help these soldiers directly.”
    –Joseph Hickman, Blue Funk Radio

    “…KBR must provide compensation to sick veterans. It is what’s owed to the service members who selflessly went to war on behalf of the United States.”
    –Joseph Hickman, Vice News

    *** Praise for Skyhorse Publishing ***

    “In the era of corporate dominated mainstream media and feckless herd reporting, Skyhorse's willingness to tackle tough issues that other publishers won't touch has made it a critical cog in our democracy.”
    –Robert F. Kennedy Jr., New York Times bestselling author

    “It has been a pleasure watching Skyhorse Publishing develop into one of the largest and fastest-growing independent publishers over the last decade. Trident does a good deal of business with Skyhorse. Skyhorse has become a cornerstone of independent publishing and has taken its rightful seat in the world of major trade publishing.”
    –Robert Gottlieb, chairman of Trident Media Group, LLC

    More books from this author: Joseph Hickman