Bill would track health issues of McClellan vets
by Alison Gene Smith
asmith@annistonstar.com
Jun 08, 2011 | 8871 views |  1 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A bill now before Congress would create a national health registry for veterans who were stationed at Fort McClellan from 1935 to 1999.

The registry would be used to track health records of the veterans to see if there is a connection between their medical conditions and possible exposure to toxic chemicals while serving at McClellan.

In the 1970s, Fort McClellan became home to the Chemical Decontamination Training Facility where soldiers worked with live nerve agents under controlled conditions, according to the base’s website.

The bill would also require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide health examinations to veterans who were stationed at McClellan.

New York Representative Paul Tonko, D-Albany, is sponsoring H.R. 2053, known as the Fort McClellan Health Registry Act, which has been referred to both the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the House Armed Services Committee.

Beau Duffy, communications director for Tonko’s office, said the representative became interested in sponsoring the bill after being contacted by a group of women veterans in his district who had been stationed at Fort McClellan.

According to Duffy, one veteran in particular, Sue Frasier, inspired Tonko to research health issues affecting veterans stationed at McClellan.

Fraiser has been working on the bill for the past seven years, two of which were a review process by the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission.

Creating a registry would be the first step in a process to help veterans who believe they have become ill due to exposure to toxic chemicals while stationed at Fort McClellan.

“It’s phase one of what’s called presumptive service connected status,” she said.

The second part would be a national health study involving members in the registry.

Frasier said she entered the Army and was assigned to Fort McClellan in June of 1970 as a member of the Women’s Army Corps.

“I graduated from boot camp and WAC training and was reassigned at 14th Army WAC Band,” she said.

Frasier believes she and many others who were stationed at Fort McClellan were exposed to toxic chemicals on the base and in Anniston, where a Monsanto chemical plant contaminated civilian neighborhoods with PCBs.

“The top signature medical condition across the group is respiratory diseases of all kinds,” she said.

Among members of the Fort McClellan Veterans Stakeholders Group, Frasier said the worst affected are those who were stationed there the longest, such as retirees.

“Those people are really, really sick,” she said. “We’ve got skin issues, muscular diseases like what I’m afflicted with, gastrointestinal diseases, lymph node and autoimmune diseases.”

Frasier said before she contacted Tonko, her representative in Albany, she tried to get local representative Mike Rogers, R-Anniston, to sponsor the bill, but after a year of trying she gave up.

“His staff was marvelous to us, they just didn’t offer anything to support the bill,” she said.

Staff at Rogers’ office declined to answer specific questions about the bill.

“This bill has no co-sponsors and no support in Congress,” Rogers’ chief of staff, Marshall Macomber, said in an emailed statement to The Star.

Although she has unsuccessfully tried to get the bill through congress before, Frasier said she is hopeful this time will be successful.

“All our justification reports are perfectly lined up like ducks in a row,” she said.

Frasier said she hoped to find support for the bill from the people of Alabama and said she and other veterans have fond memories of Fort McClellan.

“We still love Alabama. We come back there for reunions and I vacation there,” she said. “We still feel connected to Alabama.”

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Bill would track health issues of McClellan vets by Alison Gene Smith
asmith@annistonstar.com

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