Meet Jody George, she was loved by her family and friends and was admired for the person she was and the contributions she made to her family, friends and America. She retired from the Army in 2010 after 26 years serving her country, training troops and leading them into combat. I never knew her, but I will remember her and her family the rest of my days.
She survived all that and had a stellar career starting 1984 with One Site Unit Training (OSUT) at Ft. McClellan, Alabama. I was also a soldier who trained at Ft. McClellan in 1976, for basic training and the military occupational specialty of Military Police. Jody also chose to be an MP and excelled. And, at some point, likely within her first seven years of enlistment, returned to trained troops as a drill sergeant. Jody’s career mirrors that of so many other women and men who dedicate their lives to a career in the U.S. Military. So many of those careers spanned decades, and their service included Ft. McClellan, Alabama.
What America may not know, and Jody may not have known, many died, and many others became sick because of their time at Ft. McClellan.
I never met Jody, nor the thousands of other veterans who passed through Ft. McClellan, developed early onset chronic disease and passed away never knowing their health was harmed. The Department of Army, Department of Defense, Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and some others knew, but veterans were left unaware. No one was notified the fort was on the same path of harming the environment and humans as Monsanto had traveled for decades.
The City of Anniston had been dubbed, the most toxic city in America by 2003. Approximately, 17,500 citizens of Anniston sued Monsanto and reached a settlement in 2003, worth $700 million dollars over 10 years. Veterans were excluded from notification that the PCBs, other toxins and contaminants documented in Anniston had potentially harmed their health. The government ignored independent science which sent up the red flag warnings about hundreds of harmful chemicals called Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC). In 2007, The World Health Organization detailed that EDCs among other chemical toxins could travel in groundwater, deep beneath the Earth’s surface for over twenty miles in many directions.
I feel a responsibility to bring her sacrifice to your attention for several reasons, I’ll mention just three. First, during my short Army career I participated in the first test to determine if women could fight in battle. It was called the MAXWAC ARTEP, and was conducted over two years. It involved approximately 100 tactical Military police companies, army wide. It was declared successful, which was a profound declaration at the time. That happened while Jody was still attending school in Texas. She graduated in 1984 and sought a career in the Army. So, I feel a particular kinship to those women in the military who came after me. I appreciate the sacrifice of all those veterans who served honorably and their families who support them. I also feel a responsibility to help bring about justice for Ft. McClellan veterans and families of environmental contamination and toxic exposure. This should not be about any veterans seeking a financial windfall through unscrupulous means, this is about justice, quality of life for those who are sickest and the wellbeing of those who deserve health interventions.
The second reason; among a growing number of supporters, veterans and military families, Jody is known as a “Ft. McClellan Veteran.” While that may seem ordinary to many Americans, or perhaps even just a veteran thing, it can never again, be that simple. We, Ft. McClellan veterans and families (a very large population) are bonded because our right to know under the CERCLA of 1980, was not upheld. The failure of the Department of Army and those mentioned earlier in this article, to notify us we were in harms’ way, ensured our eternal bond. That lack of awareness of possibly 700,000+ veterans, military families and descendants of environmental contaminants and toxic exposure while at Ft. McClellan, more than likely contributed to organ damage, system disruptions in the body, cell mutation, chronic disease, cancer and possibly harmed the development of children. It may take decades to manifest those symptoms. Veterans who mention it to VHA providers are often rebuked, and veterans who have filed VA service-connected disability claims, regularly receive letters of denial.
Anniston, is a picturesque southern town, as is the adjacent area which was formerly Ft. McClellan, and the Anniston Army Depot. The place was not the problem. It was the harmful contaminants and toxins which combined to harm the environment and humans. Combining those toxins in nature only multiples the health effects. Every release into the environment, intentional or not, during the eighty year history of Ft. McClellan serves as a reminder- the environment and human life are connected.
The question of whether Jody was harmed by the lack of notification about exposure to these environmental contaminants and toxins speaks to the bigger picture. Are there military human casualties from chronic, low-level concentrations of contaminants and toxins at Ft. McClellan and vicinity? Decades later, based on independent science and evidence of military toxic exposure during the Gulf War, as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan, I believe the contamination at Ft. McClellan was substantial enough to impact the health of the military population.
The Anniston Army Depot was added to the National Priorities List in 1989 most notably because of the Trichloroethylene (TCE), which is still used. The City of Anniston appeared on NPL for a while, but annually revisions are made to the list. Since its closing in May 1999, special efforts may have been taken to lessen the national spotlight on environmental contamination at Ft. McClellan. The fort had been such an economic benefit to the area for many decades, anything which would hamper the process for redevelopment or add injury to the scars of Anniston and Calhoun County was anticipated and resolved within EPA guidelines. It did, however, appear on a lesser known list of federal contaminated sites. Large parts of Ft. McClellan had been released by DOA for redevelopment because it was determined they had met agreed upon EPA standards of clean up. But for many who have read through the evidence and know the back story, an element of doubt will always remain. A portion of Pellham Range, originally intended to be small residential farm, could not meet EPA standards and became a park. Public records indicate, ongoing concerns about TCE contamination in area deep subsurface water sources, which brings to light the Army’s efforts to purchase private real estate in an effort to reduce the public’s chance of exposure to TCE and other contaminants in groundwater. Supporting that effort, in 2007 DOD paid for the installation of TCE strippers at Coldwater Springs, Anniston’s main water supply.
Scores of government documents containing thousands of pages of official reports have been compiled and posted online by the Army as a requirement to inform the community. DOA and the EPA signed an agreement concerning federal facilities which fall under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program and the environmental contamination clean-up efforts. Remediation of toxins and contaminants at Ft. McClellan fell under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program (DERP), which is the military version of a Super Fund site. The documents show the challenges and shortcomings of data collection and analysis, the selection process of site analysis; a type of risk management, cost effective site analysis to be used during clean-up which was acceptable to the EPA. It may limit the necessary steps and challenges during clean up to satisfy government standards. These practices which all supported the efforts to keep the clean-up discreet, kept members of the military on the outside, never knowing their immediate and future health may be endangered. Additionally, contained in many documents were names of contaminants and toxins which include: Heavy Metals, Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons also known as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), Semi-Organic Volatile Compounds (SVOC), Dioxins, Herbicides and Pesticides and Chemical Warfare Material including Radiologic Materials. During Jody’s deployments to combat areas of operations during the 1990’s and in the decade of 2000, the Army mission more than likely carried her into the risk of encountering many of these contaminants and toxins, but she “likely” encountered them for the first at Ft. McClellan, as a young trainee.
Sometime in 1984, Jody arrived Ft. McClellan, and in the spring of that year, while in Washington, D.C. at the American Defense Preparedness Association’s 13th Environmental Systems Symposium, a top level manager from the Fort McClellan Environmental Management Office (EMO) delivered remarks on protecting the environment at Ft. McClellan while accomplishing the mission. He spoke of how those efforts to protect the environment had not interfered with the mission. Primary: house, support and train troops. It included entry level and advanced training for soldiers in nuclear, biological, and chemical defense, entry level and professional training of Military Police and selected personnel of the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and NATO. The secondary mission was described as training Army Reserves, National Guard and Reserve Officer’s Training Corps units. He outlined how they strived to reduce the environmental insult so common when man impacts the environment and mentioned that his office had the responsibility of coordination, implementation and compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act. He described the Army’s manner of dealing with potential community conflicts by reaching out to the community and informing them of Army efforts and engaging state and local government. He explained those efforts and steps helped alleviate potential community objections to accomplishing the building of a proposed new chemical decontamination training facility. He noted, “the NEPA had never hampered our military mission nor slowed any of our projects.” He later noted, ” The problem with the NEPA is this: The acquisition, management and analysis of environmental data at Army Facilities is difficult, given the time constraints placed on the analyst and the resources available.” They failed to consider the human resources so important to the Army mission.
Ft. McClellan had been in operation for many decades, even before to WWI. At the Symposium, the EMO representative explained the benefits of a 1982 contract which was awarded to install more Underground Storage Tanks (UST). These USTs were thought to minimize potential oil spills, and that quarterly testing would be scheduled to reveal leaks, additionally the intervention would include a yearly contract to sell the accumulated oil. Apparently, what his office may not have known in 1984, was that PAH, VOCs, and SVOCs had already been released into the environment for a very long time. Once in the environment, they mixed with the leaking hazardous waste. Some of the worst hazardous releases (and dumping) remains in the most shielded areas of Ft. McClellan, forever to be under control of the DOD.
While he spoke of many projects as accomplishments, in retrospect we see how the risk of harm was increasing by overlooking the human factor. The EMO representative described briefly how the Alabama Department of Public Health threatened to close the installation’s sanitary landfill in 1979. His remarks detailed that threat to the Army mission, the effort to locate alternative landfill sites, and resulted in preliminary approval was granted for a new site. He then said, “By 1980, the State of Alabama was sufficiently impressed with the corrections at the existing site to issue an operating permit.” The Alabama Geological Survey located a smaller site for future use, but the EMO representative said they [Ft. McClellan] planned to continue use of that sanitary landfill.
The representative next reported, the plan was in motion for an acceptable solid waste incinerator. Incineration on Ft. McClellan had been ongoing for decades before permits were necessary. The EMO representative indicated the generation and handling of hazardous waste was posing a problem since it could not be disposed of on the installation [given the sanitary landfill problems]. The solution was “an environmentally designed hazardous waste storage facility.” It would be the “cornerstone of management, and make hazardous wastes manageable.”
The EMO representative reported to the other symposium attendees, “Fort McClellan has [already] constructed one hazardous waste storage facility for PCBs and a second building is programmed for FY 84.” He went on to describe toxic chemicals as “one of the largest potential contributors into the environment,” citing Pest Control Operations as the mechanism. So FTMC would be implementing an integrated pest management program. He related, “a pesticide waste water facility was procured in 1982 [on Ft. McClellan] as a Research and Development project through the U.S. Army Bio-Medical Research and Development Laboratory at Fort Dietrich, Maryland. The concept is expected to recycle pesticide waste water through carbon columns and use the water as a diluent. The system is expected to reduce the pesticide residues entering the storm sewer system.” This would possibly curtail the practice of dumping into the storm sewers.
While this man gave his presentation Jody and other trainees went through OSUT in 1984, they stomped through the various physical courses, over the hills, through the streams. The air, soil and groundwater (including deep underground aquifers) were already carrying decades of environmental contaminants and toxins, including chemical warfare and radiologic materials and PCBs on Ft. McClellan. These were also found in the city of Anniston and Anniston Army Depot.
Jody was born a twin, she was likely strong enough to physically compensate for the unknown toxic exposure. According to a 2012 document by the World Health Organization (WHO), which discussed effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC) determined, as many independent scientists had already concluded, it may take decades for harmful effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC) to manifest in the human body. Many of those toxins and contaminants found at Ft. McClellan have also been characterized as affecting the Neurological systems in animals and humans. Those two systems of the body are responsible for long and short duration messages which prompt systems to function in the body.
Like so many other career Army Non-Commissioned Officers who started out in the Army at Ft. McClellan, she returned and trained troops. Other sister and brother NCOs spent considerably longer periods of time exposed at Ft. McClellan. Of the Ft. McClellan veterans and families I have met over the last eighteen months, some veterans and families have appeared to escape with minimal health effects, but others have profound health effects which have required considerable family support and costly medical treatment. Among things in common is assignment at Ft. McClellan. Many of these veterans and families have children with developmental and other general health problems.
Of those who died, would health interventions have made a difference? Without the Department of Defense, Department of Army and Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledging low level, chronic toxic exposure of veterans and military families at Ft. McClellan from 1917 through 1999, America may never know. Though there are possibly hundreds of thousands of Ft. McClellan veterans and families around the world, the government refuses to admit these contaminants were released into the environment, interacted with each other and reached into the deep water aquifers.
Title 38 U.S.C. mandates that veterans exposed to recognized list of toxins and contaminants have their claim of service connection adjudicated on a case by case basis, when disability, damage or impairment is present. Ft. McClellan veterans and families are excluded from that process, with a few documented exceptions. The VA ignored remarks of the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission empanelled from May 2005 through October 2007, and well supported by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. The October 3, 2007 statement read, “The commission believes it is the responsibility of the VA to initiate appropriate actions to create registries, monitor ongoing studies, and contract with organizations such as IOM as needed, for further analysis and recommendations.” Meanwhile, on July 13, 2006 the Dept of Defense issued an information paper which stated, “There is little or no environmental contamination that may have exposed army personnel at Ft. McClellan to PCBs.” The paper also said, “Army personnel who resided or currently reside within the identified contamination areas in Anniston may have been exposed to concentrations above EPA actions levels…” When the House of Representatives held a hearing accepting testimony on Ft. McClellan toxic exposure, notification and a Ft. McClellan Health Registry, the committee called upon the VA to testify. The VA did not respond at the hearing [about the registry], but on June 12, 2008 submitted a written answer, which read in part, “The VA does not support the creation of such a registry. Creating one is unlikely to improve the health or otherwise benefit those veterans who may have been stationed at a U.S. military base that also had hazardous materials onsite.” On June 13, 2013 Elizabeth King, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs wrote, “The cost of attempting to identify all these individuals, including the cost of media advertising, would be a significant burden on the Army’s budget…”
On that March day in 1984, the EMO representative closed his remarks saying, “…The Department of Defense is trustee of large and ecologically diverse public lands.” Then added, “We well realize the earth is a planet of finite resources…”
Jody was a finite resource. I believe from the accounts I read, the value of Jody’s contribution to the Army mission was much greater than what the Army gave back, at least in the end.
A memorial service was held November 8, 2014 for Jody. I doubt any of the people involved in deciding whether to contact veterans and families of toxic exposure at Ft. McClellan and vicinity attended her memorial. I wish I had known Jody, I was a Ft. McClellan veteran too, and I happen to think Jody deserved to know her health was at risk. She earned the right to know she was exposed to toxins while at Ft. McClellan when she was young.
I think DOD, and the VA have responsibilities to develop notification immediately and facilitate health interventions for this population. As for the challenge of notification, if the large department stores like Target and Home Depot can take on the responsibility of notifying customers after having their computer systems hacked, the DOD can accomplish this notification easily. The VA needs to examine the list of recognized toxins and contaminants and compare them to those in the evidence of Ft. McClellan environmental contamination, Anniston Army Depot contamination, and the toxins in the Monsanto case. They need to include Ft. McClellan veterans and families among those “most likely” to have been harmed by toxins and contaminants on record. The judge, who purposefully excluded veterans from the 2002 Monsanto lawsuit involving Anniston residents, made a mistake. That mistake needs immediate attention. Congress has let these veterans slip through the cracks for too long. Justice for the dead and sickest among us requires these actions. As for the bureaucrats who made the misleading statements, interjecting their opinions into the health of a population, I have a question; What is more likely to have a positive impact on a person’s health, no intervention, or an informed intervention?
Perhaps, America has reached a time when it is acceptable for the VA and DOD to treat veterans with such wanton disregard. I hope not. I still believe America cares and wants justice.
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