Legislation introduced by U.S. Representative Tim Bishop last month could bring federal funding for a nationally recognized research center to Stony Brook University.
On June 27, Mr. Bishop joined three other legislators in proposing a bill to create and finance three centers of excellence for treating veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for respiratory issues related to inhaling toxic fumes from waste fires during their service.
If signed into law, the resolution would split $30 million annually among the three centers from 2014 until 2019, with the money being appropriated from the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, Mr. Bishop’s spokesman, Oliver Longwell, said. A similar system is in place to assist veterans suffering traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.
Although there will be a competitive application process for the universities interested in becoming a center of excellence, Mr. Longwell said Stony Brook would have a strong chance of being selected because of the research it’s already produced.
“We think Stony Brook University would be an ideal place for one of the centers of excellence, because Stony Brook is already a leader in this field,” he said.
Dr. Anthony Szema, an assistant professor at Stony Brook’s School of Medicine, has been studying respiratory illness in veterans since 2004. He found that many military personnel deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan were coming back to the United States with trouble breathing.
One of the contributing factors to these breathing issues, Dr. Szema said, was toxic fumes inhaled from pit fires used to dispose of tires, munitions, medical waste and other materials, which were ignited with jet fuel. These fires were common on military bases prior to the passage of a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act written by Mr. Bishop in 2009, Mr. Longwell said.
Dr. Szema said if Mr. Bishop’s new legislation is signed into law, the work he and his coworkers have already done—including hosting two international symposiums on post-military lung health and developing a solution that could protect soldiers’ lungs—Stony Brook could do well when applying alongside larger, better funded universities.
“If everyone from Harvard and Yale gathers their funding then we’re going to get quashed,” he said. “But where we have the advantage is that we have all this research already compiled.”