Opinion | The Monster That Followed Him Home From War | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack


Within a month, the first symptoms appeared: pressure on the chest, stomach tied in knots, a thickening aura followed by the sensation of someone clawing at the base of his skull. He was quarantined over Christmas for fear he’d caught a virus; base doctors waved off his concern by saying it was the “Iraqi crud.”

When her husband made it home a year later, Mrs. Torres was euphoric. “He’s OK,” she thought. “He’s not missing a limb.” But he wasn’t OK. She’d find him curled around an ottoman, rocking back and forth, bandannas knotted tight around his head in an effort to squeeze out the pain. He suffered, too, from new, unfamiliar ailments: rectal bleeding, blackouts and, of course, that cough.

Frightened, Mrs. Torres turned to the internet. “Soldiers coming home from Iraq dying,” she typed into the search bar. This led to an electrifying discovery: Mr. Torres wasn’t the only one who’d come home with similar symptoms. She spent hours trading emails and talking to spouses, comparing symptoms and scraps of information from doctors, and soon she’d built a network that became Burn Pits 360, a scrappy nonprofit that has finally, after years of frustration, started to get traction with lawmakers.

By 2012, when Mr. Torres was forced from his job, his health had deteriorated. Mrs. Torres quit work to care for him and chase the paperwork needed to qualify for disability payments through the V.A. Mr. Torres was lucky in one narrow sense: In 2013 he finally received a then-rare acknowledgment from the V.A. that he’d been incapacitated by exposure to burn pits and began to receive disability compensation that now stands at about $3,000 a month.

By then, however, the couple had already spent their savings and started to borrow — loans from family members, ruinous advances from payday storefronts, maxed-out credit cards. Creditors were badgering them; they were about to lose their house. It would take years to dig themselves out of debt.

“No pay, no pay, no pay,” Mr. Torres said. “We kept falling more and more behind. My depression was spiraling. I didn’t know what to do.”

He reached a breaking point one night in 2016, as yet another headache gripped his skull.

He picked up a shotgun. Mrs. Torres heard him cock the gun, and she rushed at him, grappling for the weapon. The couple’s dog, a service German shepherd named Hope, ran in anxious circles, then grabbed Mr. Torres by the seat of his cargo pants and knocked him to the ground. The gun clattered loose.



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