Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Veterans say Ft. McClellan Made them Sick

Life in the military can mean being in harm's way, but not necessarily from bullets and explosions. For instance, some soldiers in Vietnam cleared trees and vegetation with the herbicide Agent Orange. The substance has been linked to cancers and other diseases, which the military didn't acknowledge until years later.
A similar situation may be brewing in Alabama. Some veterans of Ft. McClellan near Anniston say they're suffering from debilitating health problems and they're blaming their time spent at the base.
Strange Illnesses
Veteran Marla Gehman used to run but now just doing some physical activity is kind of a big deal. About 15 years ago she developed fibromyalgia. It's manageable now but hasn't always been.
"I literally had to hang onto things getting out of bed in the morning because my ankles wouldn't move," said Gehman. "They were stiff, like they were fused together. I'd be reading a newspaper and go to change the page and my elbow is locked."
A few years later she developed bone loss in her mouth. A couple of teeth fell out and three more are lose. She also suffers from degenerative disc disease causing back pain.
Gehman says she has no family history of these conditions but didn't think of it as odd.
"I just chalked it up to this happens to some people," said Gehman.
Until last summer when she joined Facebook to connect with family. She stumbled upon a Facebook group of Ft. McClellan veterans. Gehman is a former military police officer. She was stationed at Ft. McClellan twice, for training in 1979 and again in the early 90s before settling in east Alabama. She says these veterans online described numerous health problems from fibromyalgia and reproductive issues to gastrointestinal disease and cancer.
The veterans suspected PCBs released by Monsanto. For decades, the company dumped tons of the chemicals around Anniston. PCBs have been linked to cancer and other illness. The controversy culminated in 2003 in a $700 million settlement with residents.
The veterans also looked to the military itself. Ft. McClellan was home to the Army Chemical School. They say they could have been exposed to sarin gas, VX nerve agent, asbestos and radiological contamination.
"Anyone who's been through basic, you spend a lot of time in the dirt and that sort of thing and drinking water that comes from who knows where," said Gehman. "It just kind of all came together for me. I wonder if that's why I have these illnesses."

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