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Pentagon puts budget concerns ahead of Fort McClellan troops’ welfare

Feb 4, 2016   //   by admin1   //   News  //  4 Comments

– The Washington Times – Sunday, January 11, 2015

Putting budget concerns ahead of troop welfare, a top Obama administration appointee declared to Congress that the Pentagon doesn’t want to spend the money to alert hundreds of thousands of soldiers who served at a once-contaminated Army base that they may have been exposed to toxins.

“The cost of attempting to identify all these individuals, including the cost of media advertising, would be a significant burden on the Army’s budget and at a time when the Army is furloughing personnel due to a shortage of funds,” Elizabeth King, the Pentagon’s top liaison to Congress, wrote in an internal email to a House staffer in 2013.

The email, obtained and authenticated by The Washington Times, was written in response to unsuccessful efforts by Rep. Paul Tonko, New York Democrat, to get legislation passed in the last Congress that would require notification to veterans who were stationed at Fort McClellan, inAnniston, Alabama, before it was closed for widespread contamination 15 years ago.

Pentagon officials declined to address Ms. King’s email, except to say that it was meant to be a quick private communication to a congressional staffer and never intended for public disclosure. They also confirmed that the Defense Department doesn’t know how many soldiers served at Fort McClellan during the years it was being contaminated by chemical weapons or a nearby chemical plant.

Mr. Tonko said it is time for the Defense Department and lawmakers to do what is right by informing veterans of their possible exposure and offering them health solutions, regardless of the costs.

“Politicians in Washington cannot claim they support the troops while allowing problems like this to exist unchallenged,” Mr. Tonko told The Times in an interview in which he promised to reintroduce his legislation again this year.

Fort McClellan was the storied home to the Army Chemical School, the only military facility in the U.S. where live chemical weapons training occurred as part of the Army’s chemical warfare unit. Among the chemicals tested were sulfur mustard as well as nerve agents.

The Environmental Protection Agency shuttered the base in 1999 and declared it a high-priority Superfund cleanup site because its operations “generated solid and liquid wastes that contaminated soil and ground water,” according to EPA documents from the time. A flyover of former base grounds also identified a hot spot where radiological materials had been buried in what became a city park.

For years after the base’s closure, scores of veterans who served there raised concerns about cancers and other illnesses they encountered afterward, their plight highlighted on websites and TV newscasts.

But the Pentagon has not undertaken an effort to track down and alert veterans to their possible exposure. The U.S. government did not join a legal settlement a decade ago with chemical giant Monsanto Co., whose operations were accused of polluting Anniston-area soil and water.

Mr. Tonko’s Fort McClellan Health Registry Act would enable veterans who were stationed at the base to get answers about any health problems they may have developed as a result of the toxic chemicals found there.

He has introduced the bill every congressional session since 2009, but the legislation has never been given a vote or even moved through committee. The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars strongly support the bill.

Complicating the issue for the Pentagon, Fort McClellan’s host city ofAnniston suffered from polychlorinated biphenyls contamination from aMonsanto operation there. PCBs were widely produced as a dielectric and ingredient in coolant fluids until they were linked to cancer, birth defects and other health problems and banned in 1979.

In 2003, Anniston residents sued the company for contaminating their soil and drinking water and obtained more than $700 million in a settlement. However, the government steered clear of the lawsuit, foreclosing the Veterans Affairs Department from the settlement proceeds.

The Pentagon’s resistance to Mr. Tonko’s efforts included concerns that it applied to “any service member who might have been exposed to a toxic contaminate, not just polychlorinated biphenyls,” according to Ms. King’s 2013 email to Congress.

“Considering that virtually every service member will have been exposed to something (including cigarette smoke) during their stationing at the former Fort McClellan, it is unclear what benefit such an open-ended survey would provide,” Ms. King wrote, placing the blame for any contamination on PCBs and not the Army’s chemical weapons.

“Lastly, the proposed amendment would generate a significant financial and resource burden upon the Army,” Ms. King said.

Mr. Tonko said he does not plan to alter the bill to narrow the contaminants to only PCBs before resubmitting it to Congress this year.

“We plan to introduce our McClellan bill containing the same language as last Congress, but I have always been open to amendments, and I’m happy to have any discussion that moves this process forward for our veterans and their families,” he said.

Former soldiers at McClellan say they are still learning details about how contaminated the base was from chemical weapons and Monsanto’s operations and that notification is essential to aiding those who are still unaware.

Kelly Burdette, who was stationed at Fort McClellan in 1979 for basic training, suffers from multiple sclerosis and ankylosing spondylitis. She has been dealing with the muscular and skeletal diseases since she left the service in 1981.

“I was there, and now I have a lot of medical issues — things that no one else in my family has,” Ms. Burdette told The Times. She attributes her diseases and suffering to having worked at the contaminated base.

Ms. Burdette has to walk with a cane and has undergone surgery in her right eye.

“They’ve got my medication under control to where it is slowing the progression, but of course there is no cure for either one of them,” she said. “All we did wrong was serve our country. We weren’t Republicans, we weren’t Democrats; we were soldiers fighting for our freedom.”

The government is well aware of the hazards at Fort McClellan.

The Army and EPA placed part of the base on the National Priorities List in 1989, a list of the most serious hazardous waste sites that need long-term action. A year later, the entire base was listed under the Superfund, also known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which gives the federal government the right to set plans, guidelines and procedures on cleanup measures, superseding the state’s rights.

After the site was shuttered, the EPA, along with the Army and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, continued to clean up and monitor the soil for contamination.

As part of the closure and evaluation of the site, the Army performed a flyover of the base and found that a former fort property given to the city as a park had buried radiological materials — visible to the naked eye from 10,000 feet overhead.

Elevated readings were found, and a ground investigation at the park identified a “presence of soil contaminated with cesium and cobalt,” according to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Solutia, part of a divestiture of Monsanto, was formed in 1997. Solutia CEO John Hunter told CBS News in 2003 that the company is trying to do the right thing.

“We’re committed to cleaning up the PCBs,” Mr. Hunter said in the interview, explaining that the company has spent more than $50 million in the cleanup. Since speaking to CBS, Solutia went bankrupt and was acquired by Eastman Chemical Co. and incorporated as a subsidiary.

“Solutia, as a result of agreements made upon its emergence from Bankruptcy, is handling the cleanup work required in Anniston due to the PCB manufacturing at the former Anniston plant,” Maranda Demuth a spokeswoman at Eastman, wrote in an emailed statement to The Times.

Although Solutia’s cleanup is continuing, the federal government has concluded that Fort McClellan itself is clear of any further contamination.

The federal public health agency, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, concluded in a 2008 report that the “site currently poses no apparent public health hazard.”

Still, veterans who were stationed at the site during the height of its contamination deserve to know why they may be having adverse reactions to chemicals to which they were once exposed, advocates say.

Jesse Smith, a veteran and former U.S. House candidate in Alabama, told The Times that while running for Congress he was given information about Fort McClellan by a group of veterans.

He has organized The Trail of Toxicity March on Washington next week. The march is intended to bring awareness to the fact that these veterans were exposed to toxins but never told.

The march will begin at the VA and end at the White House. Mr. Smith said evidence of the contamination and its effects is overwhelming, and veterans need to be their own advocates.

“We can’t expect the people who are in Washington to advocate on our behalf,” he said.

VA creates website for Fort McClellan veterans

Feb 4, 2016   //   by admin1   //   News  //  26 Comments

Posted: Friday, April 17, 2015 4:39 pm

By Patrick McCreless, Star Staff Writer,pmccreless@annistonstar.com

federal agency last week launched a Web page  in response to years of activism by some veterans who believe that toxic exposure at Fort McClellan made them ill.

The Department of Veterans Affairs posted the page April 7, providing a comprehensive list of information, but carefully noting that it’s unlikely anyone could have developed serious health problems from serving at the former fort. McClellan veterans advocates say the site is a victory for their cause to be recognized as a toxic exposure group and another step toward receiving disability compensation.

The toxic substances listed on the site include two radioactive compounds used in decontamination training activities in isolated locations on the former fort, which closed in 1999. Also listed are mustard gas and nerve agents used in decontamination testing activities in certain parts of McClellan. The site also mentions possible exposure to airborne polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, from Monsanto’s former plant in Anniston.

The website notes that, “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.”

Still, the VA decided it was necessary to create the website, said Randy Noller, spokesman for the department.

“Subject matter experts from the Office of Public Health have been communicating with veterans concerned about their exposures at Fort McClellan,” Noller said. “Based on those discussions, the OPH created a specific web page to provide information specific to these exposures.”

Noller added that the VA will continue to respond to veterans’ concerns and post additional information on the issue as it becomes available.

….In a Thursday email from the office of U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-New York, who has introduced legislation several times in recent years to establish a federal health registry for McClellan veterans, the congressman wrote that the website was a good first step.

“But more needs to be done to swiftly ensure Fort McClellan vets and their families get answers to the questions that they have been asking for years as well as the medical treatment our country owes them,” Tonko wrote.

Tonko wrote that he planned to reintroduce his McClellan health registry legislation in the 114th Congress.

To see the VA website, visit www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/fort-mcclellan.

Obama administration neglect Marines and families of poisoned Camps

Nov 14, 2013   //   by admin1   //   News  //  2 Comments

Jerry Ensminger is one of more than 750,000 Marines and military family members who lived aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune during a three-decade period in which serious contaminants, including chemical degreasers and organic solvents, seeped into the drinking water on base. Ensminger, a grizzled retired master sergeant, saw his 9-year-old daughter Janey die from Leukemia that he believed was caused by the contamination; others who lived on base were diagnosed with kidney cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and a host of other serious diseases. Over 70 men who lived or grew up on the base have been diagnosed with breast cancer so far.

Ensminger and his advocates in Congress have proposed that the Department of Veterans Affairs provide survivors with medical care and hospice for their contamination-related illnesses, a plan that would cost an estimated $3.9 billion to fund. It seems a reasonable request, given these veterans and family members were unwittingly poisoned by government neglect; but in these days of budget uncertainty and looming fiscal cuts, perhaps a tough sell nonetheless.

Here’s the thing: in a rare case of over allocation, VA officials found that cash in surplus — then they went ahead and unilaterally spent it on other things.

Staff with the House Veterans Affairs Committee said the VA was required to submit a healthcare budget to Congress every year based on spending estimates for that year. In the spring, officials ran another model that shows the year’s spending rate to date and how much the department is likely to spend for the rest of the year.

For Fiscal 2012, slower than estimated spending rates meant the VA was left with a $3 billion surplus for that year, committee staff said. For Fiscal 2013, it was $2 billion. (VA officials said the figures were $2.2 billion and $2 billion, respectively.)

The problem here, committee officials said, was that they were not informed until early 2012, with the president’s FY 2013 budget proposal, about a surplus that had been discovered starting in 2011. And, by the time they were informed, the money had been reinvested into other VA projects, including activating new facilities, expanding mental health, and eliminating veteran homelessness, according to VA officials.

The command decision to reinvest the $5 billion — a considerable sum, representing more than five percent of the department’s annual healthcare budget — left some lawmakers on the committee feeling snubbed.

Rep. Bill Flores, a Republican freshman from Texas, said he wanted to work with the committee to organize a hearing on the issue to hold department heads accountable.

“It would have been better if they told us when they were (finding the overage) rather than after the money’s gone,” he said.

Committee chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) penned a letter in February to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki asking him to consider allocating the overage funds to healthcare for Camp Lejeune veterans, rather than the programs the VA had specified.

Earlier in April, Shinseki responded, saying it was premature to make the decision to give the group healthcare, as studies to determine the full extent and effects of the contamination were ongoing. The letter did not mention that the agency performing the studies, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, had already stated that the water was “clearly a hazard” and the EPA had separately confirmed that two of the contaminants, Benzene and TCE, were known human carcinogens.

“The fact is that we were poisoned; the documents are there,” Ensminger told Human Events. “It’s time to move. It’s time to give these people their benefits.”

A couple weeks ago, Miller and three other lawmakers representing bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees elevated the matter to President Barack Obama in a joint letter.

“VA has existing resources which could be reserved without derailing other initiatives; we will work the legislative process to complement what VA can do on its own authority,” they said.

It has been a bad week overall for confidence in VA accounting.

Last Monday, an Inspector General’s report found that the department significantly understated wait times for its mental healthcare patients and overstated the percentage of first-time patients who got timely appointments for evaluation.

Miller told Human Events via email that he has requested a full accounting of overestimated funds from the VA and made it a priority to ensure Congress and the VA work together in the future on these matters.

Miller said he was also working to get those affected by Camp Lejeune water their needed medical care as quickly as possible, whether by opening up a VA priority, passing legislation now in Congress, or drafting a new resolution.

“These men and women have been waiting too long to be recognized by our government, and should not have to wait another day,” he said.

source: http://www.humanevents.com/2012/05/02/obama-administration-neglect-poisons-camp-lejeune-marines-and-families/

60 minutes US Military’s Toxic Secret

May 26, 2013   //   by admin1   //   News  //  26 Comments

What makes residents of Anniston, Ala., even angrier than their exposure to a toxic chemical is that the company responsible never told them. Steve Kroft reports on America’s most toxic town.

Some 20,000 current and former residents of Anniston are suing Monsanto, the manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyl’s (PCBs), which were made in the town from 1929 to 1971.

The chemical was banned in 1979, but PCBs can be still found in Anniston’s air, water, soil, wildlife and in the residents themselves, many of whom say it contributed to their illnesses, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Monsanto knew PCBs could be dangerous in 1938, when company documents reveal that rats exposed to the chemicals developed liver damage.

This irks resident Donald Stewart, a former U.S. senator and the lawyer representing 3,500 residents in one of the lawsuits.

The residents of Anniston, he explains, “are not the wealthiest people in the world, so they fish a lot….They consumed these fish that were filled with PCBs. (They) raised poultry,…hogs and at no point did the company ever inform the people in the community about the problems they were facing.”

Monsanto had been urging employees to wear protective gear when working with the chemical since the 1950s, but never alerted the town. Residents found out in 1993, when a fisherman caught a badly deformed fish and sent it to a lab for analysis.

Besides the illnesses, Anniston is unique in another way, says resident David Baker: “Our children have to play in the streets, on the sidewalks, because they can’t play in the grass because it’s contaminated. We have to wear masks if we cut our grass. Where else in the United States of America (are) people doing that?”

Some parts of town are so badly contaminated that residents have been told not to grow vegetables, kick up dirt, eat or smoke in their yards.

Monsanto sold off its chemical business in 1997, and the new company is called Solutia. Its CEO, John Hunter, says the company is now trying to do the right thing.

“Do I wish that things might have been done differently…than they were? Sure I do,” he tells Kroft. “We’re committed to cleaning up the PCBs.”

Hunter says Solutia has spent more than $50 million on its cleanup and that Anniston residents are no longer being exposed to “significant” levels of PCBs.

“We’ve sampled 1,000 residential properties and only 24 of those are required for immediate action,” says Hunter.

While Solutia tries to clean up the land, residents who can rattle off their PCB levels like their ages remain contaminated.

“There’s absolute definitive evidence that (PCBs) cause cancer in animals…(and) evidence in humans consistent with the conclusion that they cause cancer,” says Dr. David Carpenter, a professor of environmental health and an expert on PCBs, who has studied Anniston.

“In my judgment…this is the most contaminated site in the U.S.,” he tells Kroft.

source: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-570593.html

Fort McClellan More Toxic Than Camp Lejeune?

May 26, 2013   //   by admin1   //   News  //  2 Comments

Fort McClellan is the former home of the U.S. Army Military Police and U.S. Army Chemical Schools. Located in Anniston, Ala., it was one of the largest training posts the Army had to offer before the Environmental Protection Agency closed the fort down in 1999. Nearly 500,000 men were trained there during WWII, and hundreds of thousands of others used this installation to hone their military skills during the post’s 82-year history.

Countless brave men and women spilled blood, sweat and tears over the training grounds. Everyone lived in close quarters and prepared for combat abroad — much like any other fort. But throughout the fort’s long run, there was a dark secret that nobody — save a chemical company — knew about.

Between 1933 and 1999, Fort McClellan was constantly exposed to major biochemical health hazards, including ionizing radiation and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Think about that for a second.

The people living at or around Fort McClellan were soaking up PCBs and other caustic chemicals through the air, water, soil and wildlife, all over a 66-year span. Soldiers were laying in them on the firing range, they filled their canteens with them during “hydration formations,” and they breathed them in while they ran “Cardiac Hill.” And they never suspected a thing.

Something Smells Fishy

But chemical and agribusiness giant Monsanto did know. And they knew for nearly 40 years.

Studies by Monsanto began in 1966, when they tasked a University of Mississippi biologist with testing the water. He placed bluegill into one of the streams to test the water’s effect on wildlife, and the results were startling. The fish became disoriented within 10 seconds, he reported, and were dead within four minutes. Monsanto filed the report away, never raising the concerns to environmental officials. Many more tests would be done as time passed, but nothing was ever announced publicly.

It was the disposal processes that lead to health concerns. As Monsanto processed the now-banned industrial coolants known as PCBs at a local factory, they routinely discharged toxic waste into Anniston creeks and dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into oozing open-pit landfills, only to be discovered years later during excavations by builders. Other excess Monsanto chemicals also made their way into Anniston’s environment, including different kinds of dioxins and herbicides, including the infamous Agent Orange. The effects of these chemicals were far-reaching.

Service members and civilians living in the area have since developed serious health conditions, including: various cancers, autoimmune disease, heart disease and diabetes. But these health concerns weren’t limited to the soldiers that were stationed there.

According to a report in the Archives of Pediatrics Adolescent Medicine, babies born in Anniston have a higher chance to suffer from structural birth defects like missing limbs, malformed hearts and underdeveloped spinal cords.

In 1999, the EPA declared Fort McClellan to be a toxic site, and was federally mandated to be decontaminated. But that decontamination was only the beginning. In 2003, the city of Anniston sued Monsanto, and the city was awarded $700 million to help care for exposed residents. Veterans stationed at Fort McClellan, however, were never advised of the suit. They were excluded from it, as the Department of Veterans Affairs presumably would be responsible for any medical care or disability for the chemical exposure. In 2009, that 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft called Anniston one of the most toxic places in America, furthering the need for the VA to step up and take care of its veterans. But the problem remains that care isn’t being given. According to the VA, there hasn’t been a “causal” connection between service on the post and diseases resulting from Monsanto chemicals.

A Long Way Off

In May 2011, Congressional representatives reintroduced H.R. 2052, the Fort McClellan Health Registry Act. The bill would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to create and maintain a registry of veterans that were stationed at Fort McClellan, as well as providing them with updates, medical care, and give a presumption of service connection for disability claims for any disease which came as a result of chemical/toxic exposure. Unfortunately, this bill has almost no chance of being passed at this time.

So, just like the long, sordid history of Camp Lejeune, it could take decades to finally have a real answer.

On a personal note, I was also stationed at Fort McClellan in 1998, where I attended Military Police basic training and advanced individual training (AIT). And just like veterans from the other three branches that went to school there, I had no idea I was being exposed to toxins. It’s scary to think that I could develop cancer or suffer from some other malady, just for being stationed there for five months. But it’s even scarier to think that my children could develop health problems because I was required to train there for my career choice.

While Fort McClellan is still under cleanup, it’s not fully closed down. National Guard units, Homeland Security and other law enforcement training groups are still there on temporary assignment. If you, or someone you know, have been stationed there, please spread the word so we can help those in need.

source: http://www.veteransunited.com/network/will-ft-mcclellan-exceed-camp-lejeune-status/

Fort McClellan – ‘the most toxic place on the planet’

May 26, 2013   //   by admin1   //   News  //  245 Comments

If you served at Fort McClellan – ‘the most toxic place on the planet’ – and are ill, give this info to your Dr and file a VA claim, say veterans’ advocates.

Here’s why. I am in the process of preparing a Veterans Administration claim stemming from my service at the former chemical/biological warfare training site fondly known as Fort Mac. I want to talk to others who served there. If you don’t know about the toxic secrets that might be lurking inside you, I’d like to give you a heads up. If you do know about them, I want to hear your story.

If you are a Ft. McClellan vet who is a newbie to this issue, I have good news and bad news.

So even if you find yourself encountering human-guised hyenas who burst into laughter while you are popping the nitroglycerin or are holed up in the e.r. yet again, the VA understands that you cannot fake a heart attack or other recognized conditions (such as, winding up with a four inch rod bolted to your neck).

The bad news: We were exposed. Big time. The CBS program 60 Minutes once called Fort Mac the most toxic place on the planet. It reportedly is the only chem/bio facility in the Army where live substances were manufactured, stored, and used in training. The McClellan Cocktail includes depleted Uranium, sarin gas, mustard gas, and various other bacterial, nerve and chemical agents. And let’s not forget that old standby, Agent Orange.

This past weekend I talked to an old Army buddy who told me about her freakish list of health problems. Many of them mirrored mine precisely; but I was the first to tell her about toxic exposure at Ft. McClellan. I hope she joins me in filing a claim. It is a drawn-out process. You have to produce more than just the standard DD-214. I am in the process of filing my own claim. I already have sent my notification, as required, to the Veterans Administration. My Veterans Service Organization will pick up from there.

source: http://www.veteranstoday.com/2010/07/06/heads-up-for-those-who-served-at-fort-mcclellan/

Feel free to contact us at info@poisonedveterans.org or send us a message below.