Battle Over Burn Pits: Vt. soldier in 1st-of-its-kind lawsuit dies of cancer

Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 6:47 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 8, 2021 at 6:56 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A Vermont soldier exposed to burn pits in war zones lost his battle with cancer shortly after settling a lawsuit with the federal government.

“I got cheated. He got cheated. And my wife got cheated,” Wes Black said in May, choking back tears as he talked about his wife and young son.

Black knew then he didn’t have long to live. The war veteran suffered from stage 4 colon cancer, a form so aggressive countless treatments and surgeries failed. It spread-- and fast-- to his liver.

The 36-year-old died at his White River Junction home Sunday with his family by his side.

Black blamed open-air burn pits in war zones for his illness. In them, everything was torched. He breathed in toxic smoke while stationed near them.

He sued the federal government in a first-of-its-kind claim, saying the VA never took burn pit exposure into account and he was misdiagnosed.

Just recently before his death, Black won that legal battle. The government settled a $3 million suit.

His lawyer, Dan Perrone, said: “Wes exceeded in every way what it means to be a hero. He was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for his wartime heroics and, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, he used the tragic hand he was dealt as a platform from which to raise awareness about the harmful effects of burn pit exposure. Above all else, Wes was a devoted husband, loving father and I’m truly blessed to have been able to call him a friend. My thoughts are with his family.”

Family was everything to Black.

“She’s been through all of my darkest days. And stuck with me,” he said. “I’m eternally grateful to her for that.”

He hoped that someday his 5-year-old would know his bravery.

Wes Black: He’s still too young to know that daddy’s not going to live through this.

Reporter Darren Perron: What do you want your son to know about you?

Wes Black: I just want him to know that I was the person who stood up for others... If I can prevent just one family from going through what my family is going to go through, what I’m going through, if I can prevent one vet from having to do that... and that’s what I want my son to know about me, I fought to the end.

Black’s lawyer says if changes are not made at the VA and burn pit exposure is not considered immediately during medical assessments, this could be the first of many lawsuits against the federal government.

Funeral arrangements for Wes Black have not yet been announced.

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