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Tonko Pushes to Advance Fort McClellan Veterans Bill Out of Committee

Legislation sets up health registry to show devastating health problems of veterans are tied to toxic exposure during service at contaminated military base

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AMSTERDAM, NY—Congressman Paul D. Tonko spoke before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs today to push for swift review and passage of his bill H.R. 2825, the Fort McClellan Health Registry Act to establish a health registry tracking links between service at Fort McClellan and the painful, chronic health problems—“various forms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, heart disease, and numerous other reproductive, autoimmune, and neurological problems”plaguing many of the veterans who served there.

This issue was brought to Rep. Tonko’s attention by a NY-20 constituent shortly after he first came to Congress in 2009. Tonko and his team investigated and were horrified to discover what appeared to be a pattern of veterans who served at Fort McClellan and a collection of mysterious, painful and debilitating health disorders. 

Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama was used as a major site for U.S. military chemical and biological weapons testing until its closure in 1999. During its decades of use, it was also home to the U.S. Women’s Army Corp and U.S. Military Police Training facilities. 

Airborne PCB exposure on the base has also been linked to an adjacent Monsanto plant. Monsanto settled a PCB contamination suit with the residents of nearby Anniston for $700 million in 2003.

Watch Rep. Tonko’s full testimony to the committee HERE or read below for full text of his remarks.


Thank you Mr. Chairman for the invitation to testify before your committee today. I come before you to advocate for the thousands of veterans who served at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama and who are seeking to understand the long-term, severe health impacts they have suffered as a result of that service.

Fort McClellan and the neighboring City of Anniston, Alabama have been designated as one of the most polluted sites in the nation. Until its closure in 1999, the base was a U.S. military chemical and biological weapons training center and for much of the same time, the location of the U.S. Women’s Army Corps and Military Police School.

In addition to that chemical and biological weapons exposure, the fort was situated just miles from an enormous chemical manufacturing plant that spewed tons of PCBs into the air, soil, and water until 1971. This contamination remains a hazard still today.

When I was first elected to Congress in 2008 I met with a constituent who, like many women who served during that period, was stationed at Fort McClellan in the 1970’s as part of the Women’s Army Corps.

As my office investigated this issue further, we heard from hundreds of America’s service veterans from all over the country who had served at Fort McClellan and later experienced often devastating health issues consistent with PCB and other forms of toxic substance exposure.

Conditions those veterans have reported include various forms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, heart disease, and numerous other reproductive, autoimmune, and neurological problems.

Yet while there have been numerous studies detailing the adverse health impacts of PCB exposure for residents of nearby Anniston, amazingly, no comprehensive study has ever been conducted on our veterans who served at Fort McClellan.

These veterans served, and sacrificed, for us and they have paid a terrible price for it. We owe it to them to do better.

I have introduced legislation, H.R. 2825, the Fort McClellan Health Registry Act, that would notify current and former service members who served at Fort McClellan that they may have been exposed to one of these dangerous substances, and create a voluntary health study to assess their health conditions and claims.

Over the years since that constituent brought this matter to my attention, our call to support our Fort McClellan veterans has drawn the support of more than 100 Members of Congress, Veterans Service Organizations, and grassroots organizations, yet despite that overwhelming support—and equally profound levels of public health evidence—we had made little progress up until this point.

After more than ten years of work on this legislation, and with the support and counsel of many members of this Committee, we are finally taking critical steps to determine the best way to address service-connected illnesses that have plagued the lives of far too many.

I want to personally thank those of you on this Committee on both sides of the aisle who have given your support to this pro-veteran legislation in the past, and for this current coordinated effort to bring attention to the challenges facing veterans across the nation who continue to suffer from exposure to toxic substances.

Our task here is simple: let’s get the basic information we need to affirm this link and help these veterans get the care they deserve.

I know there are differences of opinion on the best way forward – whether through a registry or some other method - to give the impacted Fort McClellan Veterans a path forward. While I do not pretend to have all the answers, I’m eager to work with anyone, from either party, to build a solution that makes real progress for the veterans who have been struggling for so long.

Based on the many thousands of veterans who were stationed at Fort McClellan across multiple decades, the odds are very good that everyone on this Committee has Fort McClellan Veterans in your district. Many will have similar stories. Nearly all are frustrated. They need us to act now and make this right. 

This not a local problem, this is a national problem. Caring for our veterans is not just the right thing to do, it’s our job and our duty. And if anyone here has any lingering doubt about that, then this is a debate worth having.

I urge this committee to take swift and decisive action to advance the Fort McClellan Health Registry Act or any related legislation that would meaningfully address the needs of the Fort McClellan Veterans. I yield back the balance of my time.


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