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There are well over a hundred United States military installations that have been identified as contaminated by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Many of which, were identified after decades of activities and exposures to our nation's military service men and women.  Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Combat Veterans were exposed to toxins, including Mustard gas and Atomic radiation during World War II, Agent Orange in Vietnam, and the recent burn pits in the Gulf War.   


Sadly, many of the affected Veterans are seriously ill, disabled, unemployed, and dying as a result of their past exposures. The effects have caused cancers and disorders involving the following systems: neurological, autoimmune, reproductive, respiratory, hematological, musculoskeletal, and gastrointestinal.    


Toxic Veterans are experiencing a combination of rare disorders and diseases, rather than a single issue.  In many cases, the effects of their toxic exposure have been passed on to their descendants.  In spite of several efforts to enact necessary legislation that would acknowledge these atrocities and provide the necessary relief and assistance, the majority of legislative bills are ignored and passed over.  Each year, thousands of claims filed with the Department of Veterans Affairs are denied.  

Toxic Exposure in the Military: Study Delves into Problem 
November 28, 2016  

Background 
Military-related toxic exposure has steadily become an increasing concern among United States Veterans, their family members, and Veterans’ Service Organizations in recent years.  Contributing to this awareness, are stories revolving around the history of water contamination at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; burn pit exposures and reported Mustard gas attacks during the ongoing Global War on Terrorism; Agent Orange and Blue Water Navy in Vietnam; Atomic radiation and experimental exposures in World War II; Jet fuels and firefighting foams throughout military air bases; and, several other installations within the United States, including the much talked about Fort McClellan, Alabama.   


The Monsanto Corporation has a uniquely nefarious connection with the United States military, as it was reportedly contracted to develop one of the agents used in Agent Orange; and, its negligent release of PCB’s into the Anniston, Alabama community resulted in disproportionate illnesses and diseases experienced by the town’s residents, ultimately resulting in a $700,000,000 civil award for the 20,000 residents in 2003.  Incidentally, Fort McClellan and Pelham Range were located adjacent to Anniston, Alabama.  However, the issue of military-related Toxic Exposure extends well beyond a single branch of the military or installation.  To that point, more than 150 United States military installations, representing at least 41 states, have been reported as contaminated, based on EPA reports and documents.  Those that have not been identified as Superfund/CERCLA sites, have otherwise been the subject of supervised clean-up efforts. 


The United States Congress has demonstrated some amount of awareness, as indicated by the thirteen (13) separately identified legislative bills and resolutions in the House and Senate during the 114th Session, which focused on the acknowledgement, investigation, identification, and treatment of Toxic Veterans and their family members.  However, most of the proposed legislation will likely fail to be passed and enacted before the end of the session.  Despite the perpetuated dismissal and denial of the needed legislation for those who have shared their accounts of toxic exposures, several efforts remain underway to increase national awareness and ultimately achieve legislative reform.   


In response to the lack of Congressional action, social media groups, individual activists, nonprofit organizations, and even a few of the nation’s larger Veteran Service Organizations have all spoken out regarding the history of military-related toxic exposures.  Some of those personally affected, have even been inspired to create documentary films, including the award-winning and heart-wrenching film featuring the personal accounts of the tragic losses and adverse health impacts experienced by Camp Lejeune veteran Jerry Ensminger, MSgt, USMC (Ret.) and Camp Lejeune dependent, Mike Partain – SEMPER FI: Always Faithful; as well as, Toxic Service: The Soldier’s Story, produced by former Fort McClellan veteran, Ted Methvin, Jr.  


The Study 

To further assess opinions and measure consensus among the affected groups of Veterans and family members, a 20-question survey was released exclusively through social media on November 17, 2016.  The results of the survey, thus far, have identified several key factors for further consideration.  In less than a week, 899 respondents completed the survey; with additional responses continuing to be submitted.  It is important to note that there was no pre-requisite to confirm prior military service or affiliation for completing and submitting the survey by respondents.


Key Findings 
Six out of every 100 respondents surveyed, identified with having lost either a spouse or descendant due to Toxic Exposures; and, 72% shared their belief that they have several, disabling health issues either known or believed to have been caused by Toxic Exposures.  Notably, another 7% indicated that someone living in their household is experiencing health issues, known or believed to have been a result of Toxic Exposure.  Among those who responded, 5% indicated that they are the descendent of a Veteran, who is known or believed to have been affected by Toxic Exposures. 


Critics and skeptics of those who believe their health decline is attributable to toxic exposure, while serving in the United States military, share the common beliefs that the overwhelming majority of those seeking justice are principally motivated by their anticipated monetary gain; and, that there is no direct link between toxic exposure and deterioration of health.  Perhaps, some of the sentiments supporting the latter assertion is the lack of 100% impact among former service members and their dependents.  In other words, if such a problem existed, then why didn’t everyone get sick from the alleged exposures?  Medical science and genetic pre-disposition might offer some explanation as to why there is not a unilateral impact; and, goes well beyond the assertions reflected in the survey.  Moreover, as identified in the survey, disability compensation and pension for those reportedly affected remains to be a crucial concern; but, is by no means the only stated concern among the affected population.   


The survey results have already shown that there is a shared need between disability compensation and pension, along with healthcare assistance.  As the respondents were given the opportunity to select more than one choice when asked what the United States Government should provide in response to Toxic Exposure issues, more than 86% of the majority of respondents selected the previously mentioned needs, and 65% of respondents noted survivor’s benefits; toxic research and education; national outreach, awareness, and education; and, a genuine apology for the decades long history of denial, cover-up, and dismissal of the claims and assertions submitted by Toxic Veterans and their family members.  These results tend to reflect that the claims and assertions are not solely motivated by the anticipation of a monetary award.   


The range of onset of symptoms and health issues, from the time of possible exposure, was noted as between 1-3 years for 23% of respondents.  Those who selected ranges of 4-10 years or 11-20 years accounted for 34% of respondents, with another 15% identifying a range of onset of more than 20 years.  The rare and complex nature of the reported illnesses and disabling conditions among Toxic Veterans and their family members is only further substantiated by the assertions of 75% of respondents indicating that none of their diagnosed health conditions existed or were reflected in their preceding generations’ health histories.  The types of health complications experienced represent that not only is more than one major health system affected; but, instead indicative of multiple-system involvement.  Cancer, autoimmune disease or disorder, cardiovascular disease, dermatological disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disease or disorder, musculoskeletal disease or disorder, pulmonary or respiratory disease, systemic illness or rheumatological disease, and reproductive systems were all reportedly involved, with an average of 30% for each of the conditions identified.  Neurological disease or disorder represented the largest segment, as identified by 38% of respondents.  This data further suggests that most respondents have been affected by two or more of the listed conditions.  Perhaps, this can also help to reveal that the issues experienced are not simply attributable to lifestyle choices, as is sometimes speculated by critics and opponents. 


A mere 9% of those surveyed, indicated that they have already received a service-connected disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs related to Toxic Exposure, with more than half stating that they have not yet filed a claim.  For those who filed a claim, 20% of respondents reported having to wait for longer than a year for their claim to be resolved.  Only 10% identified with not believing that they have a service-connected disability related to Toxic Exposure.   
 
In sharp contrast with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ proclamations for having already addressed Toxic Exposures, more than 92% of those surveyed are at least dissatisfied, if not strongly dissatisfied.  Over 55% of those surveyed, reported experiencing a dismissive attitude from their healthcare providers, including Veterans Administration Medical Center healthcare providers, in response to their assertions and beliefs regarding the source of their illnesses.  Sixty-five (65%) percent shared that the official website for the Department of Veterans Affairs, as it pertains to Toxic Exposure issues, is not helpful.  Perhaps, some of this reaction can be traced to examples such as the Public Health notice regarding Fort McClellan, as posted by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The web page identifies potential exposures; but, then directs Veterans to either reach out to their Environmental Health Coordinator or file a claim.  As was experienced by several affected Veterans, the Environmental Health Coordinators within the VA Healthcare system are not accepting or documenting reports offered by Veterans; and, filed claims are extensively delayed or simply denied.  Therefore, the suggestions offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, at least as they relate to Fort McClellan, lead to a dead end.  


Affiliations with each of the branches of the United States military, including: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard were identified, with over 85% identifying with the Army, nearly equal representation among the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force – each representing approximately 10%, followed by a small segment representing the Coast Guard.  Clearly, the results demonstrate direct affiliations within multiple branches and could be explained by military households, immediate family member service (including parents, spouses, and descendants), and those who served in more than one branch of the military.  Of the respondents, 44% associated with the Vietnam era and earlier; and, 69% indicated their service period occurred in the 1980’s to 1990’s.  Twelve (12%) percent identified with Post 9/11 service.  These percentages suggest extended service careers; as well as, multiple members or generations of a family having served in the military.  Certain assumptions could also be made from these results, including that the older populations of Toxic Veterans are not aware of the cause of their illnesses, have already given up after decades of seeking justice, or have died, because of their exposures.  Perhaps, the Toxic Veterans whose service occurred in the 1980’s to 1990’s represents a more active group within the context of social media and activism; are currently experiencing disabling conditions and illnesses; or, could represent a segment of the Veteran population that was not directly involved in a combat operation and their service period primarily consisted of assignment to a contaminated United States military installation.  In any event, these are only assumptions based on the data collected and further investigation would be required to adequately identify the disproportion of groups represented.   

Questions were posed to respondents regarding their opinions about the United States Government and Department of Veterans Affairs attempts to address the issue of Toxic Exposure.  The results measured, to this point, are clearly indicative of prevailing paradigms within the affected population of Toxic Veterans and their family members.  Nearly 90% of those surveyed, identified the anticipated cost of healthcare, disability compensation, and survivor’s benefits as the primary reasons that the issue has not yet been fully acknowledged.  As this question also offered the ability to select more than one choice, respondents also identified with a lack of care and concern for our nation’s military veterans, despite political campaign rhetoric, platforms, and speeches; in addition to having to address an issue that is too large and scientifically-complicated for the United States Government to fully grasp.  Only 6% of respondents believe that there is a lack of evidence to support a link between health complications and military-related Toxic Exposure.  More than 91% of those surveyed also believe that the United States Government is fully aware of the extent and harm caused by military-related Toxic Exposures and does not want to accept responsibility.     


When asked, respondents were split regarding whether the adoption of Toxic Exposure legislation, research, and healthcare provisions should be financed through a minimal increase in federal taxes.  Additionally, 86% of respondents indicated that the issues surrounding Toxic Exposure should be incrementally and individually addressed among the affected populations, per branch of service, service period, duty assignment and location(s), combat operations deployment, age, exposure type(s), and dependent status.  However, a separate question revealed that over 95% of respondents felt that military-related Toxic Exposure legislation should be comprehensive and all-inclusive for affected Veterans and their immediate family members; regardless of branch of service, service period, duty assignment and installation(s), combat operations and deployment(s), age, or exposure types.  A comparison of these statistics would suggest that while comprehensive Toxic Exposure legislation reform is needed, there is overwhelming support and unilateral understanding that an incremental approach in addressing these issues would be appropriate.  


Conclusion 
What has been difficult for many Toxic Veterans to understand, has been the national focus and attention on issues, such as the Flint, Michigan water contamination crisis and the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrations; both of which, speak to the incendiary issue of environmental contamination and the adverse impact on human health systems.  Yet, those issues pale in comparison to the unfathomable legacy of military-related Toxic Exposure within the United States Government.  Given the lack of national awareness, it can only be presumed that the United States population is unaware that an estimated 10% of the population resides within 10 miles of a contaminated military installation.  

With the incoming change in presidential administrations and dramatic change in representation among the elected members of Congress, the future of military-related Toxic Exposure legislation remains unknown.  What is known, however, is that the issue of Toxic Exposure has long been ignored, dismissed, and denied by Congress, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Perhaps, the results of this non-scientific and non-controlled research survey will provide some amount of awareness regarding the opinions and experiences among those who are most adversely impacted by Toxic Exposures.  At least for now, we can anticipate that Toxic Veterans and their family members will continue their efforts to raise awareness and seek justice through a variety of means and mechanisms, including social media, Veterans Service Organizations resolutions and reports, Congressional hearings, petitions, and rallies by grassroots advocacy groups.