The Alabama Legislature during the last session passed a joint resolution supporting the establishment of a health registry for Fort McClellan veterans who experienced toxic exposure.
The U.S. House has already passed the “Honoring our PACT” bill, a comprehensive bill that would treat a wide range of toxic exposure, which includes the creation of the Fort McClellan registry. The bill now sits in the U.S. Senate. It passed in the House with every Democrat and 34 Republicans voting in favor.
“It was great to see our legislators come together in very much a bipartisan manner, almost unanimous, to say that they support our veterans here in the state, and they believe in what we were asking for on the board,” State Board of Veterans Affairs vice chair Scott Gedling told APR on Wednesdy. “It’s not a big ask to take care of veterans, I don’t think, and their support goes a long way.”
The state Legislature’s resolution followed a similar resolution passed by the Alabama Board of Veterans Affairs in October 2021,
Veterans who served at Fort McClellan have for decades expressed concern that their various medical problems might be attributable to toxins they may have been exposed to there, but proving such exposure resulted in those conditions isn’t easy.
A medical registry could determine whether certain medical problems could be linked to Fort McClellan, thereby opening up treatment to a wide number of veterans through the federal government granting a presumption of service-connected disability.
Fort McClellan was home to the Chemical Corp and served as the military’s main chemical and biological training until the base closed in 1999. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has confirmed that possible exposures at Fort McClellan include radioactive compounds, chemical warfare agents and airborne polychlorinated biphenyls, manufactured at a Monsanto plant in Anniston.
“I know all of our veterans groups are really working hard to get that pushed over the finish line,” Gedling said of the “Honoring our PACT” bill in the Senate.
It’s not yet clear whether the Fort McClellan health registry will be included in any compromise bill that could come out of the Senate, but Gedling said the hope is that it remains in the final bill.
“We would certainly hope it doesn’t drop out. That’s the right place for this, and the right time to get it done,” Gedling said.
Kent Davis, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, explained to APR on Wednesday that the department’s focus is always on helping veterans.
“We’re here to assist veterans, and whatever decisions are made on this matter, we will assist veterans,” Davis said.
Davis noted that Fort McClellan veterans can currently file individual disability claims related to their service, and that the department assists in doing so.
Those claims must be backed up by medical records that show a connection to Fort McClellan service, however, and that can be made more difficult if a veteran’s service records are incomplete.
The “Honoring our Pact” bill would also provide healthcare to more than 3 million veterans, strengthen disability compensation for veterans impacted by toxic burn pits and pay death benefits to spouses and children.