|From The Times Tribune thetimes-tribune.com
Disease caught in Iraq fatal to vet
BY BOB KALINOWSKI (STAFF WRITER)Published: May 16, 2012
FORTY FORT - Loved ones of U.S. Army Spc. Dominick J. Liguori say he was fighter, but the 31-year-old could not overcome the lung disease they say he developed while serving in Iraq.
Family and friends gathered Tuesday night to say farewell to the Swoyersville man, who died Friday after a three-year battle with a lung disease called sarcoidosis.
Family members say Spc. Liguori developed the disease from exposure to open-air burn pits while serving in Iraq, and the ailment slowly scarred and destroyed his lungs.
"For whatever reason he go it, he got it," Spc. Liguori's mother, Andrea Kovalik, 50, said outside a viewing and funeral service for her son at the Hugh B. Hughes Funeral Home. "As it heals, it kills you. So his lungs were all tight and scarred."
Respiratory issues affecting military veterans exposed to open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan have been the subject of several recent national news stories.
The Department of Defense maintains that research on the link between lung disease and the burn pits remains inconclusive but nonetheless has shut down all burn pits in Iraq and says it has plans to do so in Afghanistan by the end of the year, according to news reports.
Concerns about a possible link have led to a proposed law in the U.S. House of Representatives called the Open Burn Pit Registry Act. The law would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a registry of veterans who have health problems they believe are related to exposure to open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Subcommittee hearings were held on the topic in April.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' website, waste products in burn pits include but are not limited to: chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metal/aluminum cans, munitions and other unexploded ordnance, petroleum and lubricant products, plastics and Styrofoam, rubber, wood and discarded food.
"They did scans of his lungs. You could see on the scans that most of his lungs were destroyed," said Spc. Liguori's aunt, Denise Houck, 52, of Exeter. "You'll see a lot more in the future. You really will."
A 1999 graduate of West Side Tech, Spc. Liguori joined the Army after high school. He was assigned to the 82nd Airborne, where he served in the infantry as a sniper, according to his obituary. He later served a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
"About five, six years into serving, I begged him to get out. I was afraid for him," his mother said.
Spc. Liguori took her advice and decided not to re-enlist. He planned to go to college.
"He didn't like it. He wanted to go back in. So he went back in," Ms. Kovalik said. "He hated civilian life."
Spc. Liguori then joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, 111th Infantry, in Kutztown, which led to his eventual deployment to Iraq.
"Since he was little, he wore camouflage for Halloween every year. He painted his wagon camouflage. He painted his little trucks camouflage. He hid in the trees with camouflage," Ms. Houck said. "All he ever dreamt about was being in the military. That was his lifelong dream. I think if God could have made him better, he would have rejoined.
"He's our hero. He's our warrior. We look up to him," Ms. Houck added. "He was a man to salute."
Mourners who arrived at the funeral home were greeting by a large collage of photos of Spc. Liguori's life. Members of Spc. Liguori's unit took turns standing at attention at each side of their comrade's casket. Spc. Liguori was dressed in his Army uniform.
Spc. Liguori was diagnosed with a lung ailment three years ago, but his health began to rapidly deteriorate in October, according to his family. After months of tests and trips to the hospital, doctors determined he did not have long to live.
His brother, Nicholas, was serving in Afghanistan with the Army at the time and was scheduled to return home in February.