Fort McClellan is a former Army installation located nearby Anniston, Alabama that has come to be known for the high potential of toxic exposure to personnel who served there. From 1952 to 1999, when the fort was closed as part of the Army Base Closure and Realignment Committee (BRAC) program, Fort McClellan was home to the U.S. Army Chemical Corp School, which trained personnel in chemical warfare and may have resulted in exposure to radioactive compounds and chemical warfare agents.
On top of the possible chemical exposure from being on base at Fort McClellan, veterans may also have been exposed to airborne polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that were produced at the nearby Monsanto chemical plant in Anniston between 1929 and 1971.
What Toxins Were Present?
Toxins were present in Fort McClellan from the 1920s onward, and many of the chemicals stored there were produced at Monsanto. The following chemicals were present on base for storage and training purposes:
- Mustard Gas
- Agent Orange
- Agent Blue
- Cobalt (Co-60)
- Cesium (Cs-137)
- White Phosphorous
- Tear Gas
- Nerve Gas Agents
- Blister Agents
Exposure to these chemicals may result in a number of serious conditions. Following are some of the most concerning conditions related to certain chemical exposures. This is not an exhaustive list, nor does it describe the symptoms related to each of these conditions. Should you suspect you are suffering from one of these conditions and can trace its cause back to service at Fort McClellan, it’s recommended to see your doctor immediately to diagnose your condition.
- Skin conditions like acne and rashes
- Liver/stomach/thyroid damage
- Cancer of the liver and biliary tract
- Immune system changes
- Behavioral alterations
- Impaired reproduction
- Mustard Gas
- Increased risk of lung and respiratory cancer
- Chronic respiratory disease or repeated respiratory infections
- Agent Orange
- Type II Diabetes
- Parkinson’s disease (Parkinsonism)
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Early onset peripheral neuropathy
- Prostate and respiratory cancers
- Agent Blue (an arsenic herbicide)
- Increased risk of cancers of the lung, bladder, skin, kidney, liver, and prostate
- Radioactive Compounds like Cobalt (Co-60), Cesium (Cs-137), Uranium and Plutonium
- Cellular damage or changes to genetic material
- Increased risk of several forms of cancer
- Nerve Gas Agents
- Symptoms like abdominal pain or tightness in the chest, diarrhea, nausea, headaches, vomiting, twitching muscles, and vision problems
- Increased risk of chronic respiratory issues
- Increased risk of respiratory cancers
Does VA Recognize the Risk?
VA recognizes that certain members of the military “may have been exposed to one or more of several hazardous materials, likely at low levels, during their service at Fort McClellan.” It readily admits that service members may have been exposed to radioactive compounds (specifically Cesium and Cobalt), chemical warfare agents (specifically mustard gas and nerve agents), and PCBs (which it identifies as having originated from the neighboring Monsanto plant).
The particular groups VA recognizes as having been potentially exposed to harmful compound are the following:
- U.S. Army Chemical Corp School
- Army Combat Development Command Chemical/Biological/Radiological Agency
- Army Military Police School
- Women’s Army Corps
Though VA admits that high levels of exposure to these compounds can result in significant adverse health effects to humans and laboratory animals, it claims that there is no evidence that such high levels of exposure occurred at Fort McClellan. VA’s concluding statement on the matter is that “[t]here are currently no adverse health conditions associated with service at Fort McClellan.”
As such, VA does not presume that any adverse health conditions related to exposure to the toxins referenced above are associated with having served at Fort McClellan. No health registry exists either, which might track personnel who may have been exposed to such toxins.
This is all despite legislation proposed in 2015, H.R.2825 – Fort McClellan Health Registry Act, which asks that Congress create a “Fort McClellan Health Registry” to track veterans and service personnel who served at Fort McClellan between January 1, 1935, and May 20, 1999, and who have sought medical care, filed a claim for disability compensation, dies and is survived by kin who file a claim for dependency and indemnity compensation, or requests and/or receives a health exam from VA.
It is likely that VA requires additional data research be conducted to prove a strong enough connection between service at Fort McClellan and exposure to dangerous amounts of toxins, something which it thus far denies.
What About Agent Orange Presumption?
Agent Orange is a chemical herbicide that was widely used in Vietnam and is linked to a number of serious health conditions. VA established a presumptive list of conditions associated with Agent Orange, as well as times and locations at which veterans may have served who can be granted presumption of exposure.
Unfortunately, Fort McClellan is excluded from the locations listed by VA as a possible exposure site for Agent Orange, and therefore, Fort McClellan veterans suffering from conditions that may be the result of Agent Orange exposure are not granted presumption, and must go about filing a disability compensation claim without the benefit of the doubt.
How to Get Compensation
Most unfortunately, disability claims tied to Fort McClellan toxic exposure are difficult to prove, and should not rely on any presumption of health conditions being related to service at the fort. The frustrating truth is that disability claims must be filed as if they do not fall outside the norm.
Veterans are not granted presumption, which means the onus falls on the veteran to provide a current diagnosis of their condition(s), an in-service incident that is tied to that condition(s), and a nexus, or professional medical opinion that links the diagnosis to its in-service cause. In essence, you must prove a service connection to your condition, again, without the benefit of presumption.
Assistance with your claim
As stated above, Fort McClellan toxic exposure claims can be difficult to prove, on top of the fact that the VA disability compensation claims process itself may be hard to navigate. To ensure that you have the strongest claim or appeal moving forward, please contact VA Disability Group PLLC online or at 844-VET-LAWS to get the compensation you deserve.