Defense Base Act Compensation Blog

The Modern Day DBA Casualty

Sgt Bill McKenna dies from Burn Pit Exposure

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 29, 2010

Earlier this year, after a News Channel 8-Tribune investigation, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs ruled McKenna’s cancer was directly related to the burn pits and awarded him 100 percent service-connected disability.

Soldier dies from exposure to burn pit fires

Sgt Bill McKenna Obituary and Guestbook

Army sergeant’s widow wants military to pay burial expenses

by Howard Altman at The Tampa Tribune

If Army Sgt. Bill McKenna had died in Iraq during his two tours of duty, his widow would have had no trouble fulfilling the Spring Hill resident’s wish to be buried in New York, where the couple were born and met.

The U.S. military offers a $100,000 tax-free death gratuity to meet the immediate needs of survivors and up to an additional $8,800 in burial benefits.

But McKenna was not killed by the enemy. And he did not die in Iraq.

The 41-year-old died at 10:50 p.m. Tuesday at the HPH Hospice in Spring Hill as the result of cancer he contracted from constant exposure to the thick, acrid smoke that wafted almost every hour of every day across Balad Air Base in Iraq, where McKenna was stationed for about 18 months.

In bases across Afghanistan and Iraq, amputated body parts, Humvee parts, human waste, plastic meal trays and other garbage are incinerated, using jet fuel, in large trenches called burn pits.

Earlier this year, after a News Channel 8-Tribune investigation, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs ruled McKenna’s cancer was directly related to the burn pits and awarded him 100 percent service-connected disability.

But because he died after he was discharged from the Army as the result of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered after a mortar blast blew his helmet off, Dina McKenna will not get the military’s active-duty death benefits. Instead, she is entitled only to $2,000 allocated for the burial of veterans.

Please read the entire story here

25 Responses to “Sgt Bill McKenna dies from Burn Pit Exposure”

  1. LIAM SWEENEY said

    This is just wrong on so many levels. Bill deserves better so does his family.

  2. Laura Jiannaras said

    New meaning of Friendly Fire? The US Military should assume full responsibility to provide needed and deserved benefits to the McKenna family survivors. Pentagon: be accountable for bad decisions and mistakes that have caused serious illness and death to US soldiers. It’s all part of USA commitment to Support Our Troops.

  3. Tango58 said

    burnpits are going to be the next Agent Orange scandal.

    • Laura Jiannaras said

      I agree Tango58… what’s happening now = tip of the iceberg. We as USA need to uproot this sucker and the sooner the better.

  4. Daniel Saunders said

    Why couldnt they be issued gas mask or the chemical masks. Im sure they have a few around over there. This is the US ARMY


  5. anonymousonpurpose said


    In answer to your query: It is 120 – 130 degs. over there a good part of the year…how do you think it would be feasible for a person to operate wearing a gas mask 24/7? That is what it would take to protect you from the burning of so many volatile objects that were never, ever meant to be burnt in an open air burn pit! These burn pits operated just a few hundred yards from where people eat, sleep, work, and live.

    It is just not feasible to provide them all with gas masks and chemical cartridges in that environment.

    Can you imagine trying to sleep in one of those things?

    This just didn’t affect the people working at the Burn Pit, it affected everyone on base, and I am sure many who lived close to the base outside the wire!

    I am surprised more Iraqis have not tried suing the U.S. of A.

    Think before speaking.


    • laura jiannaras said

      You obviously are missing out on the appropriate perspective Sir/Madam ‘anon’. Soldiers have NO CHOICE but to follow the direction of their superiors. That is the practice of all military from the beginning of time. Follow the leader, period. MY BRAVE AND HONORABLE SOLDIERS have my upmost support, as they deserve nothing less. You likely never played so close to harm Sir/Madam ‘anon’, and have trouble putting yourself in the shoes of those who are falling and fallen due to exposure to war hazards. Please be a good follower of great leadership so that you may help others; I think that may be a good salvation for you. God bless and good luck with your life; I hope it helps others greatly.

      • laura jiannaras said

        I’m sorry for being so defensive and not understanding the volley between Daniel’s question and response of mostly frustration from AnonymousOnPurpose. I have posted a more recent response below. Thank you.

  6. anonymousonpurpose said

    Hello again,

    For such a dense question, I have to wonder whether or not you are working for one of these insurance companies.

    That idiot remark sounds just like what one of their insanely dense (acting at least, they are very, very deviously clever, but they act stupid)defense attorney’s would ask.

    Are you sleeping with the enemy Daniel?


    • Wow SGT. WILLIAM MCKENNA Was a Great Friend of Mine , I’ve Known Billy For 24 years , Your Idiotic Response Is not Called for , & NO , You Lame Jackass , she’s not Working for An Insurance Company , She’s a Very Great Friend Of My Buddy’s Family , Who’s Trying to Help Them Out , So Why Don’t you get you Head Out of your Ass , & Take a Trip to IRAQ , And Breath some of that Poisonous Air In , You Nasty S.O.B. !!!

      You Anonymous Pond Scum , You Have Some set of Balls , Maybe it Should happen to Someone you Love , and You’ll See How Quick Your Tune Changes , I Hate Opinionated Blind Idiots like your self ……

      • anonymousonpurpose said

        Have YOU spent any time on a FOB in Iraq Gregory? Well I have, I meant NO disrespect to Sgt. Will McKenna and your insinuation that I did is stupidity at its worst. I was talking specifically about the Burn Pits of which I unfortunately have quite a bit of experience with and am now suffering because of. Yes, you asshole, I breathed in plenty of that “poisonous air”.

    • laura jiannaras said

      Okay I’m back to retract and redirect my recent post. Mud-slinging does not sit well with me, and I regret doing so. It is 100% true = Soldiers follow orders of their superiors whether right or wrong. And it is 100% true = brave and honorable soldiers deserve nothing less than my upmost support. Also 100% true = I am very sorry for mud-slinging at ‘anon’ aka AnonymousOnPurpose. Daniel made a statement that is perhaps a bit naive but nevertheless a likely choice for immediate action to protect those closest to burn pit exposure. However, as ‘anon’ pointed out, there is so much more to it than those closest to the pits wearing masks (24/7 or otherwise). AnonymousOnPurpose, Daniel is not sleeping with the enemy and his employment status may or may not be in the insurance industry. Daniel’s question is not dense, and we could all use a more thoughtful and understanding response as opposed to insults. Daniel, thank you for your post and interest. Anon, please continue to post helpful info that may better represent the issues on behalf of our soldiers and their families, keeping in mind not everyone is as well-informed of the magnatude and critical nature of such circumstances. Truce? Peace!

  7. anonymousonpurpose said

    Hello again,

    You people have no fucking clue do you….why the hell do you think I am ANON….I IN IN THE LAWSUIT! I WAS THERE FOR THREE FUCKING YEARS BREATHING THAT SHIT IN AND AM PARTLY RESPONSIBLE DUE TO MY JOB (HAD NO CHOICE) BUT FOR A DENSE SOB TO SIT THERE AND SAY (WHY NOT GIVE THEM ALL GAS MASKS) YOU HAVE TO BE STUPID AND IGNORANT! I was there….and I will be suffering with grave injuries to my dying day, so do me a favor and fuck off!(this is to Gregory)

    To Laura,

    Thank you for your kind words.

    I have been fighting this corrupt system for years living on pain/anti-anxiety meds every single day since coming home. I deal with so much daily that I did not have to deal with before being hired by that evil corporation. I feel sorrow for all of the injured soldiers, but not so much as for my fellow civilian contractors because we are abused, thrown aside, and left to deal with a corrupt system all on our own. Soldiers have a huge support base and they will always be known as Veterans whereas I have been called a “blood mercenary”! People always seem to forget that our entire military is voluntary, they were not “forced” into anything, just like I was not “forced”….but I felt a sense of self worth and comfort in knowing I was doing my small part to protect the brave fighting men and women of these Great United States. If I was not injured, I would still be over there!

  8. anonymousonpurpose said

    Hello Again,

    I wanted to apologize. Gregory re-reading your note it is obvious that you did not realize that my comments were specifically sent to Daniel Saunders. It still seems suspicious that anyone would be so dense as to think that gas-masks would be a “practical” solution.

    You would seriously be surprised at how many DOD, Pentagon, Defense attorneys, DOL employees, and various other Government and Insurance entities troll this website and others like it in search of information…especially info on people like me in multiple lawsuits.

    I am in constant pain and full of anxiety about my future and I tend to take things personally. I came back from Iraq with solid proof that I was injured over there and a crooked judge, my own lawyer, and crooked opposing attorneys willing to lie cheat and steal benefits that were my right as a Government Contractor risking his life overseas for years has made me angry and disproportionally filled with rage! I do not know what to do. I am hurting and miserable now for years for no good reason. They are BREAKING THE LAW and I cannot get anyone to listen to me. It is so frustrating that yes, at times I have been suicidal.

    I wish this would all be over and I could get to the serious job of healing and making a life for myself, instead I am stuck in limbo.

    Once again, I did not mean to use such harsh language, even though you completely misinterpreted my original post.


    • Hey ,
      It’s O.K. Anon , I Also Read things , as well , Not in the right Frame of Mind & Went off Half Cocked like an Idiot , It Really Doesn’t Bother me to Be Told To ” FUCK OFF ”, Some of my best Friends have used those words at me & We all still Love each other … My Mother told me as a Joke one day , that she should have Named me Gregory ( Fuck ) Smith , Because i Would use the word so much , and not even Realize i did so … So it’s O.K. TO LET YOUR EMOTIONS OUT , I DO ………
      But out of all of this Mess , Is that Billy was a Great Friend , He was in my Wedding Party , & i Had 2 Best friend in my Party as my best man .

      To let you know , My Father was a WWII Veteran , My Mom & Dad are Both Buried @ CALVERTON NATIONAL CEMETERY , It Hurts to go there to visit , I Haven’t Been there in Over 2 years , Well , The Day Billy passed away , I Said a Prayer to my Mother & told her , Billy was Coming to Calverton National , Please Watch after him to Make sure he stay’s out of Trouble..

      Well , Calverton was Doing , For the 1 st time in 48 years , a Grave side Burial , Usually they take you a Gazebo stone stetting , & They say a Prayer , You place your Flower & Leave ,& they take the Casket to the Burial grounds After you all Leave . that’s what they did with my mom & Dad…

      Well , That Day Was The Worst Day of My Life That will Forever Be Etched in my Mind FOREVER ,
      As we Approached Billy’s Final Resting Place , We Turned the onto GARFIELD LANGHORN SECTION 23 , & I Lost all control Because of where his Podium was Set Up . My Mom & Dad Are both Buried there , They Buried my Best Friend 4 stones Next to my Mom & Dad , So Now it was Hard Enough to Go There … Now it’s Even Harder ….
      So Now You Know why i Got Very Upset , It Hurts Me Everyday Knowing that He’s there , & Seen his Stone for the First Time on Sunday , March 13 th , I Sat there for an Hour Crying my Eye’s Out , Just Staring at my Parents Stone & Billy’s Stone , Couldn’t Even Drive , Because i Was a Complete Mess …. And it’s Going to Be that Way For the Rest of My Life ..
      And the Reason i said That Prayer to my mom about Billy was ,Because She Loved Him ..

      But Out of All the Places at the Cemetery , Which Holds about Roughly 2 million + Bodies , They Picked a Spot Right Next to my mom & Dad , That was also the First time they put a New Grave there since 2002 …… I Was , and Still , am Very Freaked out / Amazed / Upset ……….. So I LOVE BILLY VERY MUCH , WE WERE BANDS MATES & FRIENDS FOR OVER 23 / 24 YEARS ……..So i Also Apologize As Well for Being The Way I Was ….

      Best Regards , and a From my Heart Sorry ..

      a Very Sad Friend , Gregory M. Smith

  9. Really, we are each and and together on the same side. Best way for me to move forward with the group would be to analyze the writer’s content more thoughtfully (extra time needed, when not too busy or distracted!), look for meaning, not jump at words perhaps misinterpreted. Emotion runs deep for me, but compared with Greg and Anon, I am much farther removed from pain and suffering. Daniel is perhaps even farther removed from the front line. I know Greg is suffering great loss. Anon with same intensities but more pain and suffering – going through it all now and too long unresolved dammit. Successful goals are reached by military, government, business, education, arts, sports by completion of organized steps/tasks. And… all the while supporting its members, including emotions vented from such activities. We got caught in our own crossfire but with 100% recovery rate, thank GOD something we can control swiftly! Emotions are coming from empathy, sympathy and passion. A group for common cause is charged with organizing and executing honorably, following directives, identify and handle support, among other rules of engagement. As a group of the same side, a primary task would be to support those among us that hurt or need the most. There are already groups formed and forming all over the place that smaller groups of people can attach to or just track, and we are and will continue to do so. What appears to be our mutual goals (the more the merrier): mobilize by leadership elected and represented by fellowship. Obviously Anon knows nook and cranny! I have attached to and learned new fellowships; for all I know, Anon already sent me some links whether directly or indirectly achieved. Anon, best wishes as you proceed toward satisfactory resolution for pain caused not only from physical wounded but the bullshit unnecessary pain and frustration you’re going through in order to obtain deserved benefit and support from the USA. It is outrageous and anti-american and should be downright illegal that any US soldier would have go through delays and even have to ‘sue’ for wounded warrior benefits deserved from your honorable tour(s) of duty. If a contractor, then corporate is responsible (worker’s compensation). No soldier should have to go through years of corrupted government officials and laws to get at deserved support from country and countrymen. SORRY, A LOT OF MY CONTENT IS FULL OF EMOTION, but I hope Anon you understand that, perhaps even with Daniel, I realize my initial response achieved nothing but slinging hurt feelings, and in the future I will try harder to have a more prepared, positive and educating response to such a posts when it hits close to my heart. LOVE TO YOU GREG (Gregory!) thanks for helping out and backing me up – you’re a darling always no matter how angry you get LOL XOXOXOXOX mwah! :o) :o)

    • This War is Destroying so many lives , I Tell Young Kids Everyday , Who Act All Gung -Ho About going over there , & I Warn all of them and say ; ”STAY AWAY FROM THE BURNING GARBAGE ”

      They Look At me , and have these Smerky Ass Smile on there Face , Basically telling me to Fuck Off …… Like there Cool & I Won’t Happen to Them Type of Face , Like , Your Friend must Have Been Weak …….. I Tell them , My Friend Billy Was as Strong as An OX ….. And a Lot Healthier than Any of You …. So Don’t Be so Smart , Because people that Go over there with a BIG HEAD , Are the one’s Don’t Come home , Because they think there to good for Useful Information ………. GOD BLESS ANY ONE THAT GOES OVER THERE ……..

      • I hear you Greg. My son’s best friend had the same immortal perspective, thank God he is home safely now, luck and fate I suppose. Dealing with ‘life after Iraq’ no matter what he says otherwise.

  10. those stupid icons were supposed to be my personal smiley faces, as in : o ) : o ) but without the extra spaces 😦 🙂 what the heck, i meant what you knew !!!!!

  11. The Burn Pit issue really hasn’t gotten enough exposure and we’ve ‘heard’ about the environmental toxins. Take a moment and tell us what is not being put out in the media. What should Warfighters be looking for and what is the symptoms we should be looking for. SOUND OFF!! !!!

  12. American Citizens who are voicing opinions and experiences involving exposures to the Open-Air Burn Pit used in the war zones.
    21 September 2011

    Joanne Ochs wrote 7 months ago
    Don’t let my son, SSG Ochs die in vain from the toxic exposure. He served 3 tours and brought the war home in his blood. No more lives…need to be taken from this!

    Louise Calabrese 7 months ago
    Keep our troops safe… so they can come home to enjoy the freedom they are allowing us to have.

    MICHAEL ruble 4 months ago,All those at the VA that want us to wait, let us build them the same type of Open-Air Burn Pits and put the same stuff and let them breathe as long as some of as did, see if they want to wait. It’s not them that fought the war, they weren’t exposed. They are supposed to help the Vets; this is not helping if we have to get our Representatives involved.

    Barbara Mrozek 5 months ago, I guess this is the reward awaiting veterans when they incur health problems from military service.

    Michael Walis 8 months ago, You must take better care of the people who willingly put their lives on the line. You can’t change other peoples shortsighted policies of the past but you can change what happens in the future. These brave men and women deserve and demand better treatment.

    Melissa Koller 2 months ago, I know my daughter was exposed to these burn pits in Iraq and we need to support this one for our Troops!

    John Lopez 2 months ago, While stationed in Al Asad, Iraq, doing Detention Operations at the Regional Detention Facility, I was exposed to burn pits every day and over 2 years later, I still wake up at night coughing and hacking. It leaves me physically exhausted and gives me cold sweats, not to mention the sore throat and migraines. I love my country and served them for over 14 years active Marines and 6 years Air Guard for a total of 20 years and would do it again if asked to, but we Vets and their families need some assistance now. We did our jobs, now it’s time for our Country to do theirs!

    Stacy Pennington 7 months ago, My brother, SSG Steven Ochs, died due to toxic chemical exposure due to the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am currently hosting another burn pit family member at my home as they have gone through their life savings and is currently receiving care at Vanderbilt University.
    They can’t afford a hotel room and a rental care. The VA and DOD have to complement each other, acknowledge the problem and be WILLING to address the health care needs. The VA and DOD has been very passive with their approach.


    Sean Phillips 7 months ago, I was stationed in Al Balad, Iraq during OIF II (’04) as an Army firefighter with the 907th EN DET. Our dept. responded to many burn pit fires on base, so that air operations could continue in country, as well as many times the Open-Air Burn Pit fires burned out of control on base. My squad leader (team chief) was diagnosed last year with pancreatic cancer. He thankfully is doing ok, but continues to battle this nasty disease. So far he is the only one from our unit to come down with this, however, some kidney issues have come up with some of the other soldiers in our unit. Thank you for your concerns and I hope that everyone who has been affected by these pits gets the help they need.

    Jeanie Cummins 2 months ago, Almost sounds like the ‘agent orange’ battle our Nam vets fought and still fight for. If you serve your country, then your country should take care of you, period! No, and, ifs or buts about it, its service connected, it should be covered!


    BARBARA O’LEARY 3 days ago, What are they waiting for? They are apparently suffering from this and it won’t get any better and all because they voluntarily joined the military. Do something now!!!!!

    Clifford Bowlin 13 days ago, The men and women that have put their very lives on the front burner for this country deserve better. Sadly it’s always been that way the one’s that suffer end up suffering even more.

    James Pagano 7 months ago, Sgt. William McKenna was my friend, as is his newly widowed wife, Dina. It is urgently important for the United States Military to adopt much more strict safety regulations in order to protect our service men and women who are laying their lives on the line. It is one thing to risk and lose one’s life to help better humanity. It is quite another for a person risking his or her life for humanity to lose that life due to the lack of humanity within our own military system. PLEASE address this YESTERDAY!!

    Burn Pit Voices 10 days ago, Dangerous toxins produced by Open-Air Burn Pits used to destroy waste in the war zone. An increasing number of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have become sick and dying from overexposure to dangerous toxins produced by Open-Air Burn Pits used to destroy waste .Journalists are reporting the dangers of toxic tours to war zones from sick returning veterans exposed to Open-Air Burn Pits. Sick veterans are displaying a range of chronic symptoms: chronic bronchitis, asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs, and shortness of breath, tightness in chest, allergy-like symptoms, heart problems, lymphoma, and leukemia.

    Heather Hamilton 12 days ago, Haven’t our soldiers sacrificed enough of themselves? Depending on the individual they sacrifice everything from their bodies to their families to protect the citizens of our country and this is what they get? Come on people, this isn’t right to do to any human being, much less these soldiers and vets.

    Kris Klos 6 days ago, Sent the trash to DC

    Tamara R Pearlman 10 days ago, I have terminal lung disease from toxic mold inhalation in my former dream home. I know the price I paid for non-disclosure; however why should our soldiers pay even a greater price for serving their country? These open burn pits must stop NOW!

    Gregory Smith 8 months ago, This Poison has to be STOPPED, It took the Life of a very Great Friend of Mine , Sgt. William McKenna , It’s a Real Big Shame on our Country to let this go on , and then Deny any wrong doings , For an Example, Not paying for his Funeral and other Family Expenses to have him buried in his Native State , NEW YORK , Not ONLY Him , but others as well that are dying from the Poison that’s Being put into the Air …..

    Madeline Baranovich 8 months ago, Friends of Billy McKenna

    Jason Miller about 2 hours ago, Health concerns for soldiers

    Robert Doyle 1 day ago, When serving in Army Combat regions, we expected to die by a bullet, not from chemicals sprayed or burned in our area of operations. Stop killing troops with chemicals burned or sprayed.

    Buddy Penick 18 days ago, I (cough) can’t breathe (cough cough) breath with (cough) all that damn (cough cough) smoke from your (cough) pyres.

    Comments, Opinions, and experiences are credited to the News

  13. “Look and listen, folks!” We are losing the war against the use of Open-Air Burn Pits in Afghanistan, and Iraq war campaigns.” How would you like to get inside the mind of War Burn Pit Exposure Advocate ( and look around for an hour?

  14. Don’t Let Our Voice Be Silenced – 6 January 2012

    We are kindly asking you to be the voice for troops; we need your support to have our voice’s be heard on the matter of troops, who were exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are now returning home with lung illnesses including asthma, chronic bronchitis and sleep apnea.

    I wish to share our concerns regarding the safety of our troops and believe that it is our government’s responsibility to treat servicememebers whose ailments are directly linked to exposure to dangerous toxins. As early as 2002, U.S. military installations in Afghanistan and Iraq began to rely on open-air burn pits to dispose of waste materials despite concerns about air pollution.

    Emissions from burning waste contain fine particulate matter, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and various irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides that can scar the lungs. Emissions also contain super-toxic chemicals such as Dioxin that are known or suspected to be carcinogens.

    An Open Air Burn Pit an area devoted to open-air combustion of trash. Modern waste contains significant amounts of plastic and other material which may emit toxic aerial compounds and particulates when burned. In Iraq and Afghanistan the U.S. military or its contractors such as KBR operated large burn pits for long periods of time burning many tons of assorted waste. Active duty personnel reported respiratory difficulties and headaches in some cases and some veterans have made disability claims based on respiratory system symptoms to more life threating diseases.

    According to a brief, instead of removing the refuse safely, KBR chose to burn the unsorted waste in gigantic, open burn pits that produced flames hundreds of feet into the sky, injuring many, by exposing them to highly toxic smoke, ash and fumes emanating from the pits.

    Can you imagine inhaling these toxic fumes 24/7 for up to 18 month deployments?

    Currently a Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011 has been introduced Senate bill # S. 1798, and the House bill H.R. 3337 to create a registry, similar to the Agent Orange Registry and the Gulf War Registry, that will help collect the facts needed to find the connections between burn pit exposure and health problems affecting our servicemen and women. The legislation will also serve as a vehicle for improved communication and information dissemination for affected veterans.

    Although these bills mentioned are a good thing, it will take many years as have Agent Orange Registry and the Gulf War Registry to get the help our troops need. Many troops exposed to Agent Orange and Gulf War have died waiting for help that never came.

    We need and ask for your voice to get the help our injured troops need now.
    Follow Burn Pit Voices on

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