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VA creates website for Fort McClellan veterans

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Fort McClellan Chemical Training

In this Anniston Star file photo, a member of the U.S. Army's chemical weapons training program learns how to properly remove contaminated gloves.

A 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.

Susan Frasier, head of an activist organization called the Fort McClellan Veterans Stakeholders Group, said she thought the website was a victory for McClellan veterans.

"It took 12 years for us to get this webpage ... it's a quality webpage," Frasier said.

Frasier said the site is a first step toward the VA recognizing McClellan veterans as a toxic exposure group. Frasier said that without that designation, it's harder for McClellan veterans to make disability claims for the health issues they say have resulted from serving at the former fort.

"We're trying to get an accelerated process in place for disabled veterans to go through that's a lot faster and a lot easier," Frasier said.

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.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.