Since 2018 RIC nursing student Chelsey Poisson has been talking to reporters and meeting with legislators to bring attention to the deadly effect burn pits have had on military bases in Iraq. These burn pits, she contends, have caused otherwise healthy Iraq War Veterans to return from deployment with cancer, leukemia, respiratory illnesses and other chronic conditions.
Recently Poisson published research to support her claim. Titled "A Pilot Study of Airborne Hazards and Other Toxic Exposures in Iraq War Veterans," Poisson surveyed over 100 Iraq War Veterans, who confirmed her hypothesis. Subjects noted "a decrease in overall physical fitness and an increase in respiratory clinical symptoms compared with pre-deployment periods."
Chelsey Poisson is a RIC M.S.N. student with prior military
service in the R.I. Army National Guard
Poisson stated that to have her research validated by the "International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health," a peer-reviewed journal, with about 30 medical professionals critiquing her research, is a major accomplishment.
And it wasn't published the first time, she said. With the help of RIC Assistant Professor of Nursing Sheri Boucher and RIC Professor of Nursing Sylvia Ross, Poisson's study underwent many edits. She sees it as a "huge accomplishment for the School of Nursing."
Her research began as an honors project during the junior year of her Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Poisson is now in the second year of her Master of Science in Nursing program.
Throughout her academic career, she made it her mission to advocate on behalf of Iraq War Veterans, meeting with legislators in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Washington DC.
Her efforts made the front page of the Providence Journal and she has presented at five medical conferences.
Poisson and Boucher are also medical liaisons on TEAM (Toxic Exposures in the American Military) with the Wounded Warrior Project, TAPS and IAVA.
"A big problem is that many Vets don't know that they've been exposed," said Poisson.
She is calling for a more comprehensive medical screening process for Iraq War Veterans post-deployment. Although a similar screening is available at the VA, she said, "the goal is to have the screening in every civilian hospital, where the majority of Vets get their medical care."
"If an individual comes to the hospital and identifies as an Iraq War Veteran, they'll be screened based on the data from my research," said Poisson. "If, for example, they have a respiratory issue and were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan where TB is rampant, they will be screened for TB."
"Preventative health screenings are critical," she said. "If we screen these Veterans, we can catch things early on and treat it and give them a more positive outcome. In other words, stage four cancer is a lot harder to treat than stage two."
Currently Poisson and Boucher are partnering to develop the screening protocol. The second step will be to meet with legislators to introduce a bill to require the screening in civilian hospitals.
"Now that we have the evidence-based data to support the need for screenings," Poisson said, "it will be easier to get legislators behind the bill."
For more information, see "Burn Pits – the Agent Orange of the Iraqi War" or visit Poisson's website
To date, the Hunterseven Foundation has helped 21 veterans obtain medical care, provided financial assistance for three veterans in need of cancer treatments and two veterans diagnosed with COVID-19.
Poisson earned her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing at RIC in 2018 and is now working on her Master of Science degree in public health nursing. While attending school part time, she is working full time in the emergency room of Norwood Hospital in Massachusetts.