SHERIDAN, Ark. (KATV) — Legislation to add extended healthcare benefits to American veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits overseas has hit the House floor, which could impact hundreds of thousands of veterans like Sheridan resident Derrick Raynor.
At just 20 years old, Raynor made the decision to serve his country in the U.S. Army. Soon after his training, he was deployed to Afghanistan in December 2010 having no idea what he was flying into.
"When I first got there, it was like 135 degrees over there," he said. "The smell as soon as you got off the C-130, it smacks you in the face."
That smell, he later found out, was toxic chemicals due to a massive burn pit on base.
"So all of the poop and human waste as trash and stuff went into this big lake and then they're burning that. That's burning 24/7, so that means you're breathing that stuff in every day," he said.
It wasn't until 2019, years after he returned home, Raynor noticed he couldn't walk more than a few yards without being out of breath, so he went to the VA to get checked out.
"So they ran the X-rays, and when they came back with the X-Ray results they said, 'Hey, we can see that you have severe lung damage, looks like years worth of damage'," he said.
Doctors attributed it to his constant exposure to the burn pit while on deployment.
Raynor says he was told they would give him a call in a couple of weeks to form a plan of treatment. Three years later, he still hasn't heard back.
"I'm highly disappointed," he said. "I would have thought me being a veteran that I would get better treatment than that."
So he took matters into his own hands and saw doctors at both Baptist Health and Vanderbilt only to get told he may have only a few years to live at 34-years-old with a wife and four children.
"I'm so young. There's so many things I want to do with my life, and now I won't be able to.," Raynor said. "Now I'm just stuck at home hooked to this machine waiting to die, pretty much."
Knowing how difficult it has been to get help from the federal government, Raynor is hopeful that Tuesday's announcement from President Biden calling for extended benefits for veterans like him will soon promote change.
"To see people getting help and getting the help that they need and knowing they can get the help, that somebody's trying to help them, I think that's wonderful," he said.
Raynor was originally told he may live maybe two years. Now it has been nearly four years since, surviving both COVID-19 and pneumonia in the process. He credits it all to his faith in God.