He choked on his words as he described the helplessness and desperation. There was nothing he could do to help. His newborn son, born with unexplainable birth defects was fighting for his life, and the doctors could not explain the cause. Both of Wayne Haden‘s sons—born of parents with historically good health—would come into this world with unexplainable birth defects. Unfortunately, this is common for some of our military veterans.
Decades later, as Hayden struggles with cancer, unexplained skin rashes and immune system failures he thinks back to his Vietnam era training at Fort McClellan, a US Army Post adjacent to an Alabama town named Anniston. Fort McClellan served as home to a variety of Army training programs including the US Army Chemical Corps School.
From 1933 -1999, US Army personnel, working, training and living at Fort McClellan, were never told they were being exposed to major biochemical health threats. Hundreds of thousands of men and women trained in, bathed in, breathed and drank hazardous substances including ionizing radiation and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). So did the residents of the adjacent town, Anniston, Alabama.
In 1966, after years of dumping and discharging waste from the manufacture of now banned industrial coolants, dioxins and herbicides—which included the infamous chemical “Agent Orange”—Monsanto Corp. secretly, tasked a University of Mississippi biologist with testing the water at Ft. McClellan. The horrifying results of these studies would be kept from environmental officials and the public.
In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted to permanently close Ft. McClellan. During its closure ceremony, Major General Ralph G. Wooten, Commanding General and Chemical Weapons School Commandant (1996-1999), thanked Ft. McClellan and the surrounding community for being “singularly responsible for providing our Army with the world’s finest military police and chemical weapons soldiers.” He referred to McClellan as “a spectacular success.”
In 1999, after its closing—a direct result of Monsanto regularly discharging toxic waste into creeks and the discovery by building contractors of open pit landfills containing millions of pounds of Monsanto chemicals—the Enviromental Protection Agency declared Fort McClellan a toxic site and mandated it’s clean up. Moreover, after years of experiencing obscene levels of unusual civilian illnesses (cancer, autoimmune disease, heart disease and diabetes) and birth defects (missing limbs, malformed hearts and underdeveloped spinal cords) the city of Anniston filed a 2003 suit against Monsanto. The case concluded with the City of Anniston and its residents awarded $700 Million to help care for its exposed residents. Monsanto agreed to pay for their portion of clean-up costs.
Ft. McClellan military veterans and their families received nothing. Veterans stationed at Fort McClellan were never made aware of this suit. They were also excluded—by the Judge—from participation in it. The Judge felt veterans experiencing future illnesses from comparable exposure could rely on the Department of Veterans Affairs for future care and treatment.
On April 26, 2010, the Department of Veteran Affairs Veteran Benefits Administration, issued a training letter (REF: 211A Subject: Environmental Hazards in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Military Installations) to all VA regional offices outlining “specific environmental hazard incidents that present potential health risks to service members and veterans.” One stated purpose of this letter “provides guidance on handling claims for disabilities potentially resulting from exposure to environmental hazards while on active duty.” The Compensation and Pension examinations fact sheets, contained in this 2010 VA training directive, require VA examiners to consider toxic chemical exposure and exposure to environmental hazards to properly and objectively assess veteran’s claims.
Today, Wayne Hayden battles with deteriorating health from his exposure to toxic chemicals while serving at both Ft. McClellan and as a Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Weapons Expert, which required handling, safeguarding and use of artillery rounds filled with depleted uranium, while deployed in Korea during the Vietnam War.
Since its 2007 filing, Wayne Hayden’s chemical exposure VA disability claim has been denied four times. He continues to brawl with the Department of Veterans Affairs for their “failure to access” his medical condition and provide the necessary care he needs and earned. Moreover, in contempt of a 2012 Federal Court ruling—which found the VA had “failed to access” Hayden’s illness and ordered a new medical assessment and payment of Hayden’s service connected disability claim—the VA refuses to pay Hayden a dime. Like so many other Ft. McClellan veterans, Wayne Hayden’s case is now floundering because the VA refuses to acknowledge a service related connection to his poisoning at Ft. McClellan.
In 2011, Congress resurrected H.R. 2052, the Fort McClellan Health Registry Act. This bill would require the Secretary of Veteran Affairs to create and maintain a registry of veterans that were stationed at Fort McClellan, provide them with updates, medical care, and give a presumption of service connected disability resulting from chemical and toxic substance exposure. Given our nation’s self-serving entitlement addictions, mushrooming national debt, overflowing Veteran Affairs claims processing queues and dying public support (in many circles) for our veteran communities, my guess is, most Vietnam era veterans will be dead before this bill becomes law.
Like most, veterans’ issues are no longer on America’s and the national media’s radar. The Ft. McClellan scandal, another example of federal government veteran betrayal, continues to go poorly publicized, and Americans become more divided.