NORFOLK — Americans Supporting Armed Services in Potsdam was the recipient of funds raised Saturday during the Norfolk American Legion Riders of Post 925 motorcycle charity ride.
Americans Supporting Armed Services advocates for more resources and help for veterans exposed to burn pits.
Tamie M. Sauve, president of Americans Supporting Armed Services, said the nonprofit raises money through fundraisers like Saturday’s 17th annual ride to support communities and provide financial, emotional and moral support for veterans and their families.
“Our theme this year is to bring awareness to burn-pit exposure, which is causing extreme health issues to veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and were exposed to toxins from burn pits. Today is a really important day for us to bring awareness to our cause. We hope that everyone will be a little bit more aware of what our veterans are going through,” she said.
Among those on hand were Cassie and Jacob Brown from North Carolina. Mr. Brown, a veteran, suffers from the effects of burn-pit exposure and his wife said that, like Agent Orange, it’s been a mystery to doctors.
“I have personally traveled 85,000 miles and counting for medical reasons for Jacob and to try to look for answers,” Mrs. Brown said.
She said they’ve been to facilities in areas such as Jacksonville, Florida, and Rochester, Minnesota, and have experienced failed experimental treatments in the process.
“After another failed treatment, Mayo Clinic says, ‘We don’t know what’s wrong with you. It’s a medical mystery. There’s nothing else we can do for him,’” she said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs was also unable to assist them, Mrs. Brown said.
“We talked to a lot of different people,” she said. “I need help for him. I don’t care about the money. My grandma always used to say no amount of money can buy a second’s worth of time. Honestly, that’s all we want is to just get him better so that way he can be a fully functioning 35-year-old man that can enjoy his kids, that can enjoy his wife, that can go back to work, that can drive again.”
They eventually linked up with Ms. Sauve and Americans Supporting Armed Services.
“They mean it when they said moral, financial and physical support. They also made sure that we were able to come out here today and stay on the St. Lawrence River, which we are so grateful for. It has been the best experience,” Mrs. Brown said.
She said helping her husband recover would not be an easy task, much like helping others suffering from Agent Orange exposure.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” she said. “This is a big issue. How the hell do you fix it? With a system that is so broken and flawed and that is just for itself and not the veteran, how the hell are we going to climb this mountain to get him better? It is a marathon. It is not a sprint.”
“Burn-pit exposure is certainly a major illness that’s coming out of the war. Jacob’s story is inspirational, as well as just understanding the dangers that were faced while they were serving our country and fighting for our country,” said Jefferson County Legislator and 116th Assembly District candidate Scott A. Gray, who was also on hand to speak Saturday.
Fred L. Cockayne, commander of AMVETS Post 4 and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 171 in Massena, said Americans Supporting Armed Services is leading the effort to bring burn-pit exposure to the forefront. But, he said, the VA could do more.
“The VA is a huge bureaucracy that doesn’t care about the veterans. They only care about protecting themselves. They’re not a friend of the veterans. I’ve told young veterans this before, they’re just another enemy that you’re going to have to battle to get what you deserve, and it’s a tough battle. The VA has a motto, I call it the three Ds — Delay, Deny, Die,” he said.
He said the VA’s acknowledgement of burn-pit exposure would not happen overnight.
“The public isn’t aware of what burn pits are,” Mr. Cockayne said. “I can tell you right now as I speak, there are men and women out there who are currently suffering or dying that have already been exposed to diseases as a direct result of burn pits. This gentleman is a prime example.”
According to the VA, open-air burning of trash in burn pits was common in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of southwest Asia.
“There was one burn pit in Afghanistan that covered more than 10 acres. The fumes from that burn pit were over the top of that base on a daily basis. Everyone there was exposed. They burned all their trash — chemicals, clothing, weapons, communications equipment, you name it,” Mr. Cockayne said.
He said the VA has an airborne hazardous and open burn-pit registry.
“Any veteran who is exposed to burn pits, even those not experiencing health issues, is encouraged to register to help the VA better understand long-term effects,” he said. “Like I said, it’s going to be a long road. It’s been 47 years since Vietnam and they’re still finding different diseases related to Agent Orange.”
Thomas Morrison, director of the Norfolk American Legion Riders, said burn-pit exposure is a cause worth riding for and raising money for. He said Ms. Sauve reached out and asked if they would consider the fundraiser for Americans Supporting Armed Services as they’ve done for other organizations over the years with the annual ride.
“We do one every year for a different group. So we put it to a vote. We had a couple other contenders. It was overwhelmingly in favor of hers mostly because we like how local they are. She’s based out of Potsdam and she’s helping people in all of St. Lawrence County,” Mr. Morrison said.
Saturday’s ride took them to the Ogdensburg VFW, the Waddington American Legion, the Colton AMVETS, the Norwood American Legion and back to Norfolk for dinner.
He said they typically figure 70 to 100 bikes are taking part in the fundraisers.
“Today we invited not just bikes, but also cars and trucks. Today we’re planning 200, but it might be bigger,” he said.
It’s been 17 years since the first fundraising motorcycle ride was held. The Legion Riders chapter was organized in 2005.
“They put it on the books that we’ll do a big ride every second Saturday of July and raise money for worthy groups,” Mr. Morrison said.
Those groups have included the Children’s Miracle Network, Make-A-Wish, Fort Drum Wounded Warriors and Project Lifesaver. He said each ride has raised between $5,000 and $10,000.
“This year I think we’re on track to be at that upper end. We’ve had amazing support from individuals, and especially our local American Legions, AMVETS and VFWs have really stepped up with a lot of money. They know how important this is,” Mr. Morrison said. “For example, we’re based out of the Norfolk Legion and our host, Reggie Monroe, the commander, presented us with a check for $1,000 this morning. In Massena, both the AMVETS and Legion gave us very significant donations.”