On October 1, the State Board of Veterans Affairs (SBVA) voted unanimously on a resolution asking the Alabama congressional delegation to set up a health registry for Fort McClellan veterans as a first step toward offering presumptive service connection.
VA admits military service members were exposed to deadly toxins detected in and around the former Anniston, Alabama Army post, yet fails to acknowledge that veterans received enough exposure to cause disease.
“Although exposures to high levels of these compounds have been shown to cause a variety of adverse health effects in humans and laboratory animals, there is no evidence of exposures of this magnitude having occurred at Fort McClellan,” says the VA. “There are currently no adverse health conditions associated with service at Fort McClellan.”
Without presumptive service connection for certain diseases caused by toxins at Fort McClellan, veterans may spend decades fighting for VA disability compensation. They may have to gather extensive scientific evidence and military records to prove that their time in service caused their illness.
Recently, health registries studying veterans exposed to toxic water at Camp LeJeune and poisonous fumes from burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq helped create VA presumptive lists for those service areas. Veterans with qualifying service and disease on the hypothetical list are automatically service-connected and eligible for VA benefits. No need to prove anything beyond their service and diagnosis.
But Fort McClellan has yet to receive equal attention. And it should.
What Were Veterans Exposed to Fort McClellan Toxins?
From 1945 to 1999, Fort McClellan housed the Army Chemical Corps, where service members conducted tests on nerve agents and sulfur mustard. Stores of these toxins leaked into the soil, water, and supply wells. Meanwhile, the nearby Monsanto Plant was releasing airborne polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the environment.
A 1998 study by the U.S. Army Environmental Center found dangerous chemicals at Fort McClellan, requiring further investigation and extensive clean-up before they could transfer the land to public use.
In 2005, a report from the National Academy of Medicine found that Fort McClellan was among the most severely contaminated Army sites, finding volatile organic compounds (VOCs) TCE and PCE, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), pesticides, lead, radioactive material, and chemical warfare material in the soil and groundwater.
But the VA is holding back on benefits for Fort McClellan veterans based on a 2008 report and 2015 report from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) concluding that exposure levels were too low to pose a health threat.
Diseases Associated with Fort McClellan Toxins
Extensive scientific and clinical data show that the toxins found at Fort McClellan can cause numerous health effects, many with symptoms that don’t appear until years after service, including:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Brain cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Eye defects
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Impaired immune system
- Kidney cancer
- Kidney disease
- Liver cancer
- Liver cirrhosis
- Lung cancer
- Memory problems
- Multiple myeloma
- Neurobehavioral effects
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Ovarian cancer
- Parkinson’s disease
- Prostate cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Reproductive problems
- Skin disorders
- Soft tissue cancer
- Thyroid problems
- Vision problems
Many of the above diseases are presumptive conditions for Camp LeJeune veterans and those exposed to burn pit fumes, both involving similar toxins to those found at Fort McClellan.
Fort McClellan Veterans Excluded from Class Action Suit
In 2003, the Monsanto Plant and another chemical company paid a $700 million settlement to the residents of Anniston in a class-action suit over the contamination of groundwater and soil with PCBs. Fort McClellan veterans were expressly excluded from the settlement agreement.
In 2015, U.S. Representative Paul D. Tonko (D-NY) introduced a bill (Fort McClellan Health Registry Act). The bill requested the Secretary of Veterans Affairs establish and maintain a Health Registry to study residual health effects in veterans who served at Fort McClellan between January 1, 1935, and May 20, 1999.
With the clear evidence of groundwater and soil contamination at Fort McClellan, there is no justification for failing to implement a health registry to determine the long-term health effects of these toxins on veterans. In exchange for their valuable service, we have agreed to care for our veterans and cover them should an in-service event cause disability.
Until the government moves forward in its obligation to care for Fort McClellan veterans, if you served at Fort McClellan between 1935 and 1999 and have been diagnosed with a medical condition, you can still win compensation. A strong medical nexus opinion supporting your claim for benefits is the most critical tool to winning these difficult VA claims.