NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) – You helped lead the fight to expand medical services for Gulf War veterans.
Retired Chief Warrant Officer Jimmy Williams, 65, was one of the first Fort Campbell soldiers to attend Dr. Robert Miller was expelled from Vanderbilt for suffering from mysterious breathing problems.
“I am honored and privileged to work with Dr. Miller and what he has done for us. He never stopped,” Williams said.
Williams oversaw helicopters for the 101stSt Airborne and served four tours in Iraq.
After his first tour in 2003, he got short of breath.
“I was choking, throwing up blood, could barely breathe, could barely run,” Williams said.
But the army doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him.
“The doctor at Fort Campbell said, ‘You need to go to Dr. Miller,'” Williams said.
That began a relationship that would eventually lead to the two testifying before Congress about the need to expand medical benefits for veterans suffering from lung damage related to their service.
“I have a whole new perspective on military service that I never had before,” said Dr. Miller.
Like many Gulf War veterans, Williams went for years without medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs to help with his condition.
But Williams is now eligible for benefits under the PACT Act, officially known as the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, which went into effect in August.
It expanded VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances.
“It took 15 to 18 years to get there and all the evidence has been there for years,” Williams said. “I think the delays were about the money.”
The fight for burn pits is one News Channel 5 determined followed for more than a decade.
News Channel 5 determined interviewed dr. Miller first came shortly after he began treating Fort Campbell soldiers.
“We saw our first patient in 2004. They were referred from Fort Campbell with unexplained shortness of breath,” said Dr. Miller.
News Channel 5 determined asked, “They found the answer, but the army didn’t like the answer.”
He replied, “I think that’s correct.”
dr Miller ordered a controversial test, a lung biopsy, that showed the small passageways in the soldiers’ lungs were badly damaged.
He said News Channel 5 determined in a 2012 interview that the army pushed back on his findings.
“The Department of Defense has not addressed this issue,” said Dr. Miller in 2012.
The army stopped sending soldiers to him and instead turned to other doctors who could not find anything in the soldiers’ lungs.
News Channel 5 determined asked in 2012, “Why do you think they stopped sending them to you?”
dr Miller replied, “I don’t think they wanted the soldiers to undergo the biopsies that we did.”
News Channel 5 determined asked, “Why not?”
dr Miller said, “I think it gave the whole thing a certain legitimacy that they didn’t want to give.”
But ten years after that interview, Dr. Miller among those invited to the White House to witness the signing of the PACT Act.
Williams said that whenever he was deployed to Iraq, he worked near burn pits, areas where the military burned garbage.
“We just dug a big hole in the ground and just started burning everything. It didn’t matter what it was,” Williams said.
“I would wake up in the night choking and choking and everything you owned had black soot on it,” Williams said.
Now that respiratory issues associated with burn pits are being treated, Dr. Miller ensure that PACT Act funds are spent properly and that veterans receive the medical attention they deserve.
“We have to make sure that a lot of side projects or bureaucratic issues don’t prevent us from actually helping people,” said Dr. Miller. “In the end, there will be tens of thousands of people with respiratory diseases.”
dr Miller compared burn pits to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
He said it took 40 years for the military to recognize it.
Burn Pits lasted 18 years, so that was better in comparison.