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Paramedic Timothy Burns Discusses High Risk to First Responders as Coronavirus Cases Rise; Trump Gives Contradictory Messages on Social Security; Biden & Sanders Spar over Social Security; Iraq & Afghanistan "Burn Pits" May Have Put Vets at Risk; Petraeus Sounds Alarm over Iraq & Afghanistan "Burn Pits". Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 6, 2020 - 13:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I wonder how worried are you? How are you preparing?

CAPT. TIMOTHY BURNS, PARAMEDIC & QUALITY IMPROVEMENT OFFICER, MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND: We're trying to take a measured but appropriate response. We want to take the correct actions that are necessary to keep our folks safe and take good care of the public at the same time.

KEILAR: Tell us what role dispatchers play in all of this and how, if this ramps up, that might change.

BURNS: So the dispatchers really are the entry point into the 911 system, and they touch every patient, every customer that we deal with.

For right now, we haven't really modified our practices to where they might be potentially screening patients and trying to identify people with coronavirus, but we see that as possibly being necessary as the events unfold if things get worse.

KEILAR: What kind of protection are you wearing or are you prepping and readying yourself for this?

BURNS: So our folks use the universal precautions on every call, and then they are --


KEILAR: What does that mean?

BURNS: Universal protections are gloves. What you would get from any doctor when you go in and get an exam.

We're reminding our folks to get an assessment from across the room and try to gauge whether a person has flu-like symptoms or a cough and then begin to escalate their personal protective equipment.

Once they identify a person under investigation that meets the criteria that the CDC sets forth, then we have a very specific set of protections that we want them to take, gloves, gowns, goggles, masks. But that's only for a small subset of the patient population.

KEILAR: We were talking yesterday to an E.R. doctor from Georgetown University, and it was so interesting to hear some of the creative ideas that they were coming up with in anticipation of this developing into something much larger. Whether it's using like Skype or Facetime to help diagnose people or to help manage people's care while they are in their home.

When it comes to first response, is there anything like that that you're considering?

BURNS: Well, we are ramping up our syndrome mix surveillance of the system and the information that we're getting out of our normal data collection to try to get an advance warning that some of these cases might be ramping up in our own local jurisdiction.

We've also talked about, as things become necessary and as hospitals possibly become more busy, the need for evaluating a patient in their home and leaving them there after they have a teleconference with a health care provider, such as a nurse practitioner or a doctor.

KEILAR: Question. For folks who maybe out there think they might be sick, maybe they have an elderly loved one that are worried is ill and is kind of going downhill. At what point do you call first responders? At what point do you call 911?

BURNS: We don't have any changes as to how and when people access the emergency system, any change than they would have weeks ago if they had an issue.

Call 911 if you are having chest pain. Call 911 if you perceive you're having an emergent medical condition and we will come and take care of you just like we always do.

But we're not recommending that people call 911 because they have flu- like systems and think they have COVID-19.

KEILAR: All right, Capt. Burns, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

President Trump is doing damage control on Twitter. He's claiming Joe Biden will cut entitlements if he wins. But it was Trump himself who said he'd do that, in a live televised town hall on FOX News.


Plus, Bill Clinton says he had an affair in part to, quote, "manage his anxieties." And there's more. The Clintons open up, ahead.



KEILAR: In a new tweet to his 73 million followers, President Trump warns Joe Biden will destroy entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, whereas he will protect them. But this is the opposite of what the president said 24 hours ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When these trade deals kick in and when all -- you know, the economy is the best economy we've ever had. It's nothing compared to what it's going to be when the trade deals kick in.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But if you don't cut something in entitlements, you'll never really deal with that.

TRUMP: We'll be cutting, but we're also going to have growth like you've never had before.


KEILAR: The White House says the president was referring to cutting the deficit, not entitlements, even though the deficit has actually spiked under President Trump.

But this flip-flop is identical to one President Trump made just a little over a month ago in January.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Will entitlements ever be on your plate?

TRUMP: At some point they will be. We have tremendous growth. We'll have tremendous growth this next year. It will be toward the end of the year. The growth is going to be incredible. And at the right time, we will take a look at that.


KEILAR: And 24 hours later, this tweet: "Democrats are going to destroy your Social Security. I have totally left it alone as promised and will save it."

I want to bring in CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston.

I'm trying to figure out what's going on here. Does he understand what entitlements are and when he says he'll cut them why people get upset?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think so. What he's doing is what he always does. He obfuscates. He creates a lot of white noise and he deflects. So he's claiming the Democrats are going to destroy Social Security but he doesn't offer any reasoning of why he's saying that.


At the same time, he's acknowledging himself, which is true, and a lot of people don't want to swallow that pill, is that if we are going to cut the budget, we are going to have to cut entitlements and it's probably going to affect folks like you and me and certainly our age group when that happens.

Republicans, Democrats, alike, like to kick the ball down the field, right? If they were to make the cuts now, you're not going to see the fruits of those cuts until much later on, which is a lower deficit.

So if you're a politician now, why don't you just try to be someone who is willing to let it go and make everybody happy, and that's what we're seeing.

KEILAR: They never want to cut it because, if the economy is doing well, they don't want it to do bad. And if it's doing poorly, they don't want it to do worse, right?

You might think this is something Democrats would seize on. But look, we're in this big race we're watching for 2020, and Democrats Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are actually now sparring with each other over Social Security.

This is what Sanders tweeted last night: "Here's the deal. Joe Biden has repeatedly advocated for cutting Social Security. I've fought my whole life to protect and expand it."

Then there's this: "Get real, Bernie. The only person who is going to cut Social Security if he's elected is Donald Trump. Maybe you should spend your time attacking him."

And that just kept going.

PRESTON: To actually voice that, them going back and force. "Get real, Bernie.



KEILAR: Get real.

PRESTON: I talked to a Sanders aide and said, what's the strategy going forward when you're going to be critical of President Biden. He said something interesting, which I've been thinking about since this race has narrowed down to two.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders don't necessarily hate each other. The animosity Bernie Sanders might have with the other people in the party may not necessarily go to Joe Biden. So when you see them hacking at each issue like this, it's almost uncomfortable for them. But it's needed because --

KEILAR: Like it's more orchestrated, you mean?

PRESTON: Well, it's -- look, I don't think we'll see an Elizabeth Warren-type hand grenade thrown from Bernie Sanders to Joe Biden or Joe Biden to Bernie Sanders, much like she did that with Mike Bloomberg and destroy his candidacy.

But you'll see argument and differentiations between their policy proposals. And expect Bernie Sanders to talk about the Iraq War much more.

KEILAR: If I have you on here to talk about a hand grenade situation, I will remind you of what you just said.


KEILAR: Mark Preston, thank you very much. It was great to have you on.

PRESTON: Thanks.

KEILAR: Coming up, a nurse now under quarantine sounds off over the U.S. response to coronavirus. Why she says the Trump administration is failing to protect Americans.

Plus, the deadly consequences of so-called burn pits. Giant holes of waste burning. These were used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Next, I will talk to a combat veteran suffering from stage 4 cancer as a result of exposure to them.



KEILAR: Today on "Home Front," our digital and television column where we try to bridge the civilian/military divide and bring you stories of military families.

We're talking about the health problems that veterans and active-duty service members have begun to exhibit because of their exposure to burn pits.

These are giant burning trash piles, sometimes acres in size, that the military use to burn waste in Iraq and Afghanistan. These were the answer to how do you dispose of trash in a war zone when you can't just run down to the local landfill.

There was a new survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America that has found nearly 90 percent of post-9/11 veterans were exposed to burn pits, and of those exposed, nine in 10 said their health issues could be related.

Joining me now is Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO and former Navy officer, Jeremy Butler, whose organization launched this survey. And we also have retired Staff Sergeant Wesley Black. He is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has incurable stage 4 colon cancer due to burn pit exposure.

Wesley, we tell your full story. It's an unacceptable story. It's also a story of just how much you have given. And we tell the story at We describe what goes into these burn pits, which is pretty much everything you told us: Human waste, medical waste, plastic, rubber, food, big-screen TVs, beat-up Humvees.

Tell us -- after these massive piles of trash are doused in diesel and jet fuel, which are known carcinogens and set on fire, tell us what it was like to breathe this air.


KEILAR: Of course.

BLACK: The biggest issue that came across is these burn pits, if you just imagine a football-sized field of burning trash, and it's pouring out hundreds of cubic-liter volume of toxic smoke. And it looks just like a giant, burning field.

It irritates your throat, it irritates your eyes, it gives you respiratory problems. Unfortunately, for me, it led to some more serious health complications.

KEILAR: Yes, that's right. You were diagnosed with colon cancer that had spread to your liver and lungs.

BLACK: Yes, ma'am.

KEILAR: You were told you had three to five years to live and that was over three years ago. You have a wife. You have a small son.

BLACK: Yes, ma'am.


KEILAR: Tell us what it's been like dealing with this and also the fact that you think you didn't get care that could have saved your care that could have saved your life.

BLACK: It's been rough. Yes, my wife is my hero. She's had to take on quite a bit, you know. And my son is 3. He's going to be 4 in a couple weeks.

And you know, it's at the point now where he's -- thankfully he doesn't understand what's going on but you know, it's only a matter of time before he finally realizes that something's wrong. He knows that daddy goes to the hospital all the time.

But you know, my family has had to sacrifice so much now, you know. I left the combat zone 10 years ago, and now my family has to deal with the aftereffects of it because of my health. It's been hell for my family.

And it's -- it's because the V.A. failed me personally. It's, you know, my story. They failed me in diagnosing me with colon cancer because I was -- I was outside of the parameters of the typical person who has colon cancer. I was under the age of 50, which means I wasn't in the line for a colonoscopy.

When I complained about signs and symptoms of abdominal pain, cramping, bleeding, you know, loose watery stools, I was told you have IBS. You can't diagnose IBS without a colonoscopy. I was never given a colonoscopy. And had I been given a colonoscopy when I first complained about it, I would have had stage one, possibly stage two, which the survival rate is much higher and much greater. Instead, my body was allowed to continue for three years and now I have stage four. You're essentially looking at a dead man walking.

KEILAR: Jeremy, that story is -- it's so hard to listen. You see Wesley, he looks healthy. He should have this long life ahead of him. He doesn't. And one of the most upsetting things about it is his story isn't unique.


KEILAR: Give us the broader context of how veterans of these post-9/11 conflicts are facing issues with burn pit exposure.

BUTLER: I think that's just it exactly. It's not well-known but the fact is our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, the vast majority of them, if they deployed to those countries, they were exposed to these same types of burn pits. The country just doesn't know about it. America doesn't know about it. Our lawmakers don't know about it.

That's what we've been doing for the last week. We've had members of IAVA, veterans themselves, who suffered from and inhaled these burn pits, walking around the halls of Congress teaching legislators about these burn pits, why they're so bad and why we need Congress to act. As Wesley said, the V.A. has failed him. And we can't have this. We need legislation.

BUTLER: We talked to General David Petraeus about this. He's been advocating for it. He likens this to the Agent Orange of this generation.

We also -- you know, we tried to get a reaction from the V.A.. What we really wanted was an explanation of, how are you collecting data. How are you going to analyze it? How is that going to play with these medical conditions? Just some basic information about what was going forward.

And they refused multiple times to do an interview. They gave us a bunch of stuff, information that wasn't particularly relevant to what we needed to know.

And you know, I just wonder what more needs to be done by the government to be taking care of what Petraeus called the new greatest generation.

BUTLER: Exactly, and he's an incredible patriot. And he's really worked hard with us, with IAVA and with an entire coalition, the Toxic Exposure in the American Military Coalition, which is about 30 organizations who are all fighting for this. So many of our veterans are suffering from this.

What needs to happen, short and simple, is we need legislation to force the V.A. to act. If they're not responding well to CNN's request for information, imagine how little they're responding to service members who are going in saying hey, I'm sick from this.

And they're saying, if we can't trace it exactly back to the origin, then you're not eligible for the treatment.

We need legislation to forces the V.A. to do research, to understand what was in these burn pits that were burned, with the effects of inhaling those toxic exposures and then setting some presumptions of connections so if you come down with these illnesses and you served in these countries, then the V.A. is going to treat you.

KEILAR: Jeremy, thank you so much.

Wesley, thank you so much for sharing your story.

You can read much more about it at

If you have a comment or a story idea for "Home Front," e-mail them to me. We read all of these e-mails.

We have more on the global coronavirus outbreak. Very soon, President Trump visits the CDC after he says there were concerns that a worker there was infected.

Plus, the White House task force will hold a news conference.

And then disturbing news out of Italy. We're learning the death toll has jumped to nearly 50 in a single day.


This is CNN special coverage.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Here we go. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump is on his way to the CDC in Atlanta right now where officials will brief him on their plan to combat the coronavirus.


The White House had initially scrapped this visit saying that the president didn't want to, quote, "interfere with the agency's mission." But then today the president contradicted that claim.


TRUMP: Yesterday afternoon, we were informed that there may have been a person with the virus and they now find out that that was a negative test.