SSG William Joseph Thompson
My name is retired SSG William Joseph Thompson. I served 23 years, 3 months and 11 days in United States Army and WVARNG. I have deployed twice with the WVARNG to Iraq. During my last deployment, I was stationed at camp Stryker on the Victory Complex. My symptoms of frequent coughing started in September 2009 while in Iraq. I was treated for allergies by my doctors and PA’s. I returned to Fort Stewart, Ga and after I mentioned to the doctors I had been having a frequent cough, they did a CXR that revealed bilateral pneumonia. They treated me with antibiotics and sent me home to WV to follow up with my PCP in one week. After a week, I followed up with my doctor, Dr. Remines and after a CT scan, he discovered that I had pulmonary fibrosis w/ pulmonary nodules. He stated my lungs looked like an 80 year old coal miners lungs. He referred me to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where I was treated by Dr. Jacob Collins for 6 months. He admitted me to the warrior transition unit at Walter Reed and after 6 months of testing, which included an open lung biopsy, I was informed I had titanium, magnesium, iron and silica in my lungs.
They diagnosed me with Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis w/ Pulmonary fibrosis. At that time, my case was so unique to them they called me a question mark. Because my lung disease was chronic, I was referred to Inova Fairfax Hospital transplant clinic by Walter Reed and was told that I would most likely need a lung transplant in the future. I have been seen by Inova Fairfax Hospital Transplant clinic from February 2011 to present time. During that time, I have been on oxygen as high as 10 liters continuously. On June, 2012, I received a double lung transplant and started pulmonary rehab. The first year was a good year. I took all precautions and followed all the doctors’ orders. Despite this, over the next 3 years, I went through periods of lung rejection and infections and decreased oxygen levels. I was back on oxygen again. On March 9, 2016, I underwent my second double lung transplant. My life and my family’s life have changed since I returned home from deployment in 2010. Due to my low immune system now, I have to wear a mask in highly populated areas to prevent infections. I challenge you to go into a store wearing a mask like I have to at times and see how people treat you. I have been treated like I’m contagious and I have to explain many times that it’s for my protection. It’s hard to hang out with my kids only to tell them “ I can’t do that”.“dad, let’s go skiing”. I can’t do that“dad, let’s go swimming”. I can’t do that“dad, can you give me a piggy back ride”. I can’t do that“dad, let’s go to the beach”, I can’t do that because the bacteria in the water.
The sun exposure with my medications makes me more prone to skin cancers (which ive recently had 3 removed)I don’t feel like a man because my role as a husband has been taken over by my wife. She now does things I used to do. There are so many things I can no longer do. I am a warrior of the United States of America. I gave my lungs for my country. The toxins in the air from burn pits and toxic dust in Iraq has changed my life forever. I will never be the way that I used to be. I am glad to be alive and home when others did not get that chance. I have heard so many times from the VA “we don’t know how to treat you” or “you don’t qualify or fit into the parameters for benefits”. I have been denied TSGLI because the Army does not think having a lung transplant is a “traumatic event”. I have been denied housing adaptation 3 times from the VA because I was not dismembered or don’t meet their qualifications. I was told the last time I was denied that they didn’t have enough evidence to show I needed any assistance. Luckily, we found the groups like Semper Fi fund/America’s fund who provided funds to make my bathroom handicap accessible. My injuries are different from other more common injuries that occur in Iraq or Afghanistan. It took the VA took 3 years to provide me with an air purifier in my home to keep it free from allergens and dust. They also denied help in removing carpet in my home that was instructed by my doctor so we had to pay for this ourselves. We have also taken out a loan to build a gym in my home where I can work out and continue my pulmonary rehab during times of illness or times when the cold or flu season is at its peak.
Although I was 100% service connected through the Army and the VA, I do not qualify to receive my retirement until age 60 because my injuries were not “combat related” . I may not live to be 60. Every day for me is a battle I continue to fight. I still have to battle infections and try to keep my body healthy from lung rejection. Hopefully, after hearing my story, it will bring awareness, not only for me but other veterans who are battling the same VA system that still doesn’t recognize injuries related to burn pit exposures and toxic dust from Iraq and Afghanistan. Thank you for being here and thank you for allowing me to share my story.