SACRAMENTO — What Agent Orange was to Vietnam veterans, some say toxic exposure from burn pits is to those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One local family has been told their Marine son will probably not survive the weekend and they believe it’s because of a toxic war injury that’s turned into a killer here at home.
“He’s a hero. He’s a fighter,” Marty Robinson said of his stepson. “What he has done for this country … he loved the Marines.”
“It just made him feel like he had a purpose and that he was doing something really positive with his life,” said mother Karen Robinson.
But the Robinsons, Ricky Wasco’s parents, say that positive has turned into the negative that will take him from them, his highschool sweet heart wife and their three little girls.
After a failed bone marrow transplant, the 27-year-old corporal’s organs are failing as he faces his last days with acute lymphocytic leukemia.
“He’d been having swollen lymph nodes and rashes,” Karen said. “He’d get them in his arm pits, his breast area, neck.”
Wasco’s parents say he’d had about six such episodes while still active duty after finishing his service in Afghanistan in 2010 – all addressed with antibiotics and rest but tied to no real answer.
Dozens started after he was discharged in 2014 and came home to Fair Oaks.
Finally, it all lead to his leukemia diagnosis just 7 months ago.
They believe his condition is directly linked to the fumes from burn pits he and thousands of others were exposed to in theater as they destroyed the waste of war.
“Batteries, plastics, human waste, you name it. They burn everything,” Karen said.
Karen, like almost 90,000 others, have registered with the government that they believe what’s happening to themselves or their loved ones is a side effect of what they’re calling this generation’s Agent Orange.
Speaking on burn pit exposure in 2009, President Obama said, “nobody is served by denial or sweeping things under the rug.”
Despite those words, part of Robinson’s pain right now is caused by what she says is Veteran’s Affairs’s denial of health benefits for Ricky based on any link to burn pits.
That denial will also mean no benefits for his girls and stay-at-home wife when he’s gone.
Veterans have about a year from discharge to diagnosis to file a claim connected to their service.
Thousands of families say that’s an unrealistic timeframe for cancers caused by chemicals and that the ultimate sacrifice of their loved ones is being ignored.
Veterans advocates at ‘Burn Pits 360’ just sent a letter to the president yesterday demanding change.
It won’t come in time for Wasco’s family.
“My heart’s breaking and my heart’s breaking for other families that I know are going through the same thing that we’re going through and it’s not right. It’s not right,” Karen said.
Wasco’s biological father was too upset to speak on camera when the family invited FOX40 to visit him at Sacramento’s Sutter Medical Center.
Ricardo Hernandez would only say that’s what’s happening to his child is just not fair.
Many studies are underway, but officially the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits.
Representatives from the VA Med Center in Mather, where Wasco’s family sought help, has not yet responded to our request for comment.
Update 7 p.m. October 8: Ricky Wasco has passed away.
The Marine we first introduced you to last night – one whose family believes his illness was caused by toxins from military burn pits – has died.
U.S. Marine Corporal Ricky Wasco died from acute lymphocytic leukemia about 45 minutes after we shared his story Friday.
He was 27 years old, had been married to his high school sweetheart for 10 years and was the proud father of three little girls.
Wasco was diagnosed just 7 months ago, but his family says the episodes of swelling lymph nodes and body rashes that evolved into his leukemia started during his service in Afghanistan.
He’s one of thousands who have registered their concerns with the federal government, claiming toxic exposure from inhaling fumes from batteries, plastics, human waste and other items burned near battlefields.
At this time, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits.
Wasco was his family’s sole provider and a ‘go fund me’ page has been set up to help bury him and care for his children.