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Veterans Law

Fort McClellan Exposures

October 29, 2018
danger of fort mcclellan exposures veterans

History of Fort McClellan

Fort McClellan (FTMC) is located in Calhoun County, Alabama and served as an active duty Army installation from 1917 to 1998.  It was one of the largest Army bases during World War II, seeing nearly half a million troops pass through.  Following the war, its primary missions were to house and support the U.S. Army’s Military Police Corps, the Women’s Army Corps, and the Army Chemical School.  Additionally, the base has also been home to various Army Recruit Training Centers throughout the years until its closure in 1999.

The Army Chemical School at Fort McClellan

The Army Chemical School operated on FTMC from 1951 until 1999, except for a brief period in the 1980s when it was temporarily relocated to Aberdeen, Maryland.  At the Army Chemical School, military personnel trained in chemical warfare, different types of herbicide agents, and radioactive materials.  As such, it is well established that chemicals and herbicide agents were used at FTMC.  Specifically, the chemical company Monsanto located in nearby Anniston, AL, contaminated the area with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminants.  PCBs remain in the environment for long periods of time, especially in soil and sediment, and can be transferred to humans by consuming water and food, such as fish, animals, and dairy products.  Despite this, VA has indicated that the current and relevant scientific evidence does not show that individuals were exposed to any chemical agent at the level needed to produce long-term health effects.  Therefore, VA does not currently presume that any adverse health conditions are associated with service at FTMC.  While it is possible to get service connected for a disability resulting from exposures at FTMC, veterans must provide a nexus between the exposure and the claimed condition.

VA Regulations Regarding Herbicide Agents

For VA purposes, an herbicide agent is defined as 2,4-D or 2,4,5-T and its contaminant TCDD, cacodylic acid, or picloram.  The military used various “rainbow herbicides”, including but not limited to, Agent Orange, Agent White, Agent Blue, and Agent Pink.  Importantly, VA’s regulations break down exposure based on the chemical components rather than the trait names.  Thus, VA does not require veterans to show exposure to Agent Orange, Agent Blue, etc.  Rather, VA’s regulation requires veterans to show exposure to an herbicide agent, as defined above.  Therefore, if veterans can show exposure to one of those agents and that they have one of the diseases considered presumptive to herbicide exposure, they should, in theory, be granted service connection.

Another important distinction within VA’s regulations involves the difference between a presumption of exposure and presumptive service connection.  Specifically, 38 CFR 3.307 promulgates a presumption of exposure meaning if a veteran served in a particular location, he or she is presumed to be exposed to herbicides.  Furthermore, 38 CFR 3.309 addresses presumptive service connection in which certain disabilities are eligible for service connection without establishing a medical nexus.  While these two regulations can work together in many cases to establish service connection, they operate individually as well.  Namely, if a veteran satisfies 3.307 but not 3.309, he or she must provide a medical nexus. On the other hand, if a veteran satisfies 3.309 but not 3.307, he or she will have to prove exposure on a facts-found basis.  In either case, a veteran is still eligible for service connection.

In regards to 38 CFR 3.309, the conditions eligible for presumptive service connection are as follows:

  • AL Amyloidosis
  • Chronic B-cell leukemias
  • Chloracne
  • Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
  • Hodgkin’s Disease
  • Ischemic Heart Disease
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset
  • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Respiratory Cancers
  • Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Herbicide Agents Used at Fort McClellan

The 1998 Environmental Baseline Survey notes that it was unclear what quantity of chemical warfare materials were stored and used on FTMC.  However, it does establish that chemicals, arsenic-based herbicides, and radiological materials, were all used on the base.  Furthermore, it confirms that those herbicides were used, at least, between 1974-1976 for Army training and recreational purposes.  In total, there were 153,640 gallons of a combination of those herbicides used during that time. Yet, there is only 45,400 acres on FTMC.  When comparing the amount of herbicide agents used in relation to the acreage, the landmass of FTMC could be completely covered over 1,900 times over that three-year span.  In contrast, when considering the amount of herbicide agents used in relation to the acreage of Vietnam over the ten-year period of time VA identifies, the landmass of Vietnam would only be covered about 146 times.  Such statistics demonstrate the high concentration of herbicide agents used at FTMC.

Service Connection for Fort McClellan Exposures

Again, VA does not currently have a presumption of exposure established for the various toxic environmental hazards of FTMC.   Nor does VA presume that any adverse health conditions are associated with service at FTMC.  In light of the information above, the question becomes: why not?  As herbicide exposure has predominately been associated with Vietnam, it may require additional research, training, and education to gain a better understanding as to how this issue extends to FTMC.  If VA concedes a presumption of exposure at FTMC, it is possible presumptive service connection would follow.