In Alabama, there is a possibility that those who served at Fort McClellan may have been exposed to toxic chemicals and radioactive materials.
During World War I, the Alabama military station of Fort McClellan served as a training ground for American troops. As time went on, the installation was used to store dangerous chemicals, including Agent Orange. Many tons of Agent Orange and other highly volatile substances like uranium and nerve gas were stored at Fort McClellan before being used extensively in the Vietnam War to wipe out vegetation and foliage, exposing thousands of service members and civilians to the chemical and causing lasting damage.
Fort McClellan’s hazardous materials spilled into the surrounding area, putting everyone stationed there at risk. More than half a million soldiers have been exposed to hazardous chemicals while stationed at Fort McClellan, and some effects on their health over the long term have been documented.
You may be eligible for disability compensation if the Department of Veterans Affairs determines that you were exposed to Agent Orange or other harmful chemicals while serving at Fort McClellan. Symptoms and long-term repercussions of exposure to hazardous substances at Fort McClellan are described in detail further down in this article.
Definition of Disabilities by the VA
Veterans get varied amounts of disability compensation from the VA, depending on the severity of their injuries. To get disability compensation, you must first meet the criteria for service connection, and then meet the criteria for a disability rating of 0 to 100. Your disability rating will be larger if you have more than one ailment because the ratings are added together. Veterans with serious impairments or who are ineligible for gainful employment are often granted a 100% disability rating.
Benefits can be drastically altered if you receive a higher rating for your disability, yet the VA assigns lower ratings to many Veterans than they deserve. Veterans with degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, have a particular challenge since their symptoms may increase over time.
After receiving an initial assessment from the VA and being granted service connection, your disability rating has the potential to rise or fall. The VA may lower a Veteran’s disability rating if their health appears to have improved over time. However, the VA must notify you prior to decreasing your rating so that you have the opportunity to challenge the decrease.
A person’s disability rating might go up over time. The only way to notice an improvement in your rating is to seek a higher rating from the Veterans Administration, file for TDIU, or file for additional disabilities. If you don’t request a new rating from the VA, your situation most likely will not change.
As exposure to toxic substances has been linked to degenerative illnesses, if you obtain a service connection for the disability, your VA disability rating may rise with time. You should monitor your symptoms and get them reevaluated if they worsen. Depending on your circumstances, you might be entitled to significantly larger compensation than you presently receive.
Fort McClellan’s Army Chemical School
Except for a brief period in 1980 when it was briefly transferred to Aberdeen, Maryland, the Army Chemical School remained on Fort McClellan until 1999. At the Army Chemical School, students learn about chemical warfare, various herbicides, and radioactive materials in preparation for combat. As a result, several items for use in chemical warfare were present on-site.
Conditions and Risks Associated with Fort McClellan Exposures
Toxins used at Fort McClellan may cause a variety of health issues. Certain disorders can be caused by radioactive substances like cesium-137 and cobalt-60, chemical warfare weapons such as mustard gas and nerve agents, and airborne polychlorinated biphenyls. Exposure to these conditions can result in the following symptoms and adverse effects.
Radiation exposure from cesium and cobalt, two radioactive elements, can lead to:
- Damage to the cells
Chemical warfare chemicals such as mustard gas and nerve agents can cause the following symptoms:
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Tightness in the chest
- Sweeps and pulls
- Inability to control one’s bladder or bowels
- Aplastic anemia – a condition characterized by a decrease in the production of red blood cells.
- Chronic respiratory illness
- Lung or respiratory malignancies
People who have been exposed to PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) may experience the following:
- Acne and other skin disorders
- Damage to the liver and/or cancer of the liver
- Injuries or discomfort in the abdomen
- Injuries to the thyroid gland
- Immune system problems
Agent Orange Exposure-Related Illnesses: Presumptive Service Connection
There is also a presumptive service connection under 38 CFR 3.309, where some impairments qualify for service connection without proving a nexus with service.
Some of the conditions that qualify for presumptive service connection under 38 CFR 3.309 are as follows:
- AL Amyloidosis
- Acute B-cell lymphoma
- Diabetes (Type 2)
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Myocardial Infarction
- Myeloma tumors
- Non-Lymphoma Hodgkin’s (NHL)
- Early-Onset Peripheral Neuropathy
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
- Cancer of the Prostate
- Cancer of the Lungs
- Sarcomas of the Soft Tissues
What If the VA Gives Me a Rating That Is Lower Than I Expected?
If you have health problems because of being exposed to hazardous chemicals at Fort McClellan and you obtain service connection for them, you are entitled to VA benefits. Still, you may be awarded an inadequate disability rating. Don’t give up if you find yourself in this circumstance. Increasing your disability rating can be accomplished in many ways. A competent attorney can assist you in appealing the VA’s decision.