Oklahoma Veteran Testifies Before Congress

by Maycee Elerick

ADA – An Oklahoma Veteran is back from telling Congress his story about his exposure to chemicals while serving in Iraq.

James Kercheval served two tours of duty in Iraq before being medically discharged.  He now suffers from a rare blood cancer called Polycythemia vera. Essentially his body produces too many red blood cells and causes his blood to thicken to the point where, without treatment, it would kill him.

“I’ve gotten letters and everything from places like the Pentagon and other military installations in the United States over the possibility of chemical exposures in Iraq during the war,” Kercheval said.

His doctors have blamed exposure to chemicals for a brain tumor that he has already had removed along with the blood cancer he is now being treated for.  

“When I first deployed to Iraq we went into (Ayn) al Asad Air Base and we ended up sleeping in some of the jet hangers and there were just barrels and barrels of liquids that no one knew what it was,” Kercheval said.  

During his many treatments, he’s met other veterans who experienced similar exposures and the resulting medical problems.

Kercheval was part of the Wounded Warrior Project’s recent hearing on capitol hill.  Derek Fronabarder with the WWP said the goal was to raise awareness about the specific healthcare needs of veterans exposed to toxins and chemicals.

For Fronabarger, preparing for the congressional hearing was a personal mission.

“After 16 months in Afghanistan, and the loss of a few close friends due to combat, I decided that I wanted to continue helping veterans of all generations establish a normal life when returning home,” Fronabarger said.  

The WWP helps arrange veterans to testify so they can share the needs of the larger veteran community in hopes that Congress will look into issues and consider funding better treatment or research for the specific needs.

“These types of Capital Hill engagements are critical in building a grassroots movement,” Fronabarger said.

Each hearing and each veteran sharing their personal story helps that goal.

“As long as Congress will back with something that they are going to help these veterans that were exposed to these chemicals it is going to help a lot of people.” Kercheval said.

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