There's a group of women, and some men, who desperately need the help of politically activist minded people. Most of you folks probably think of yourselves that way. That's why I'm appealing to you.
It's easy, free to super cheap, and the right thing to do. Have I got your attention yet?
If you're reading this you've most likely got access to email. You can probably afford the price of a postage stamp, maybe even a long distance phone call. Your congressional Representative probably has a local office within a reasonable distance of some place you'll be within the next week or two.
If none of those things are available to you let me know and I'll see if I can arrange to borrow the President's carrier pigeon for a few flights. The bird can probably use the exercise.
Using any and all of the above methods you need to contact your Representative. There's something you need him or her to do. It's easy too. Simply add their name as a co-sponsor of H.R. 2052, The Fort McClellan Health Registry Act.
What's the Fort McClellan Health Registry Act? I'm so glad you asked. Maybe you read Anna M's diary Fort McClellan, Monsanto, PCBs, and Me. It made the Community Spotlight and the Recommended List. It's chock full of linky goodness and tells a story you really should know, from an up close and personal perspective.
If you haven't already read it please click on that link and go read it right now. You owe it to yourself as a well informed person. We'll still be here when you get back.
Okay, everybody's back? Let's talk about health registries, and why they're important. Probably the largest, and most famous, health registry is the one the Veterans Administration keeps for the men and women who served in Viet Nam. It was created in 1978, the year I signed on, so that veterans of the Viet Nam War could put their names on a list of folks who'd been exposed to a highly poisonous toxin while serving in Viet Nam. Agent Orange (AO) was so widely used there that the government simply presumes you were exposed if you were in-country, as they say.
AO has numerous medical conditions associated with exposure to it, but since this isn't about AO that's a subject for another day. Suffice for now to say that it's at best extremely difficult, more like downright impossible, for most people who develop one of those conditions to prove that their personal health disaster resulted from having been exposed to the horrible chemical brew.
As anyone familiar with statistical analysis can tell you, if you get a large enough sample, and monitor it over time, statistical anomalies - numbers that are higher or lower than they should be for a comparable population - can tell a story no amount of eyewitness testimony or laboratory analysis can ever know.
Say, for example, Viet Nam veterans exposed to AO are developing condition X at a rate 10 or 20 times higher than people who've never been exposed. Scientists can safely say that AO exposure is associated with condition X. It doesn't prove that former Pfc. Johnny, who now has condition X, necessarily developed it from his AO exposure, but it makes it pretty darned likely. Likely enough that the government which sprayed the AO on Pfc. Johnny in the first place will take some responsibility to help Pfc. Johnny out. The VA develops specific programs to treat what can be treated, and provides monetary compensation for those so disabled by condition X that they can no longer earn their own living.
Kind of like the drunk driver who hit your car head-on going the wrong way down a one way street, at night, with his lights off. He, and his insurance company, have to pay your hospital bill, fix your car or buy you a new one, and should you wind up so broken in body that you can't work he owes you your wages as well. I don't think anyone except perhaps DAMM (Drunks Against Mad Mothers) thinks that's a bad idea.
Yes, as a Viet Nam veteran now suffering from more than one of the statistically established conditions, I think that analogy is fair, not overexaggerated. If you think not, email the address below and they'll send you pictures you'll never want to see again, after the sleepless nights when you can't get them out of your memory.
Another famous health registry, once again connected to military service, is the Camp LeJeune Water Registry. For thirty years (1957-87) the drinking and tap water served up from Camp LeJeune (a Marine base on the coast of North Carolina) wells was contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), among other noxious things, a well known cause of several cancers and a cause of birth defects among other medical disasters. Thanks to the untiring efforts of retired Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger and a whole lot of other past and present Marines the Congress finally gave in. The Camp LeJeune Water Health Registry, after the bitter, long fought struggle with the government, was established in 2008 which now contains more than 135,000 names, including mine. The bill presently being considered in Congress to provide VA treatment for the wives and children of those Camp LeJeune Marines is known as the Janey Ensminger Act, in honor of Jerry's daughter who died at 9 years old of the leukemia she got from drinking and bathing in that base housing water as a small child. The Janey Ensminger Act (watch the scrolling message at the top of the page) has plenty of co-sponsors, from both political parties.
When I write about health registries, and their long term value, I do so from intimate personal knowledge and experience.
All of which finally brings us to the subject at hand, H.R. 2052, The Fort McClellan Health Registry Act. Fort McClellan was a U.S. Army installation adjacent to Anniston, Alabama that was closed in 1999. It was host to several widely disparate units of the Army. The Military Police School was there. The U.S. Army Chemical Center and School was there. The Women's Army Corps, the WACs, had their headquarters and basic training at Fort McClellan until women were absorbed into the rest of the Army in 1978. It's the intersection of those last two, the Chemical Center and the WAC basic training that gives rise to the problem at hand.
Those then young women who underwent WAC basic training weren't known to have been exposed to Agent Orange. They weren't known to have consumed TCE, the killer chemical in Camp LeJeuene's drinking and bathing water. Don't ever think the government doesn't have a sense of variety. The young women of child bearing age who were the recruits trained at Fort McClellan were exposed to polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), the same kind of stuff they used to use in electrical transformers and such, so dangerous it was banned by the U.S. Goverment in 1979 and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001. PCBs share a lot of characteristics with AO's dioxin including their toxic mode of action, disruption of the body's endocrine system, and neurotoxicity or poisoning of the body's nervous system.
The women who trained at Fort McClellan aren't so young anymore and just like the AO exposed Viet Nam vets that long ago poisoning is starting to catch up with them. There's no accurate record of how many birth defected children they bore. They're now noticing similar ill health effects, the kind that no lab test can prove they got from being poisoned by Uncle Sam. No doctor who wanted to keep his medical license could stand up in court and swear that the plaintiff in the wheelchair, in constant pain, her spinal cord degenerating, her nervous system telling lies to her brain, got that way because she trained at Fort McClellan.
The women I know of will swear to it, but they can't prove it either. There's only one way to know to a reasonable scientific certainty, and you've just been reading all about it. A Health Registry. A place where the names and medical records of those now or soon to be ill women can be collected in a large enough statistical sample to compare to the general population. A set of data from which a qualified scientist, or a platoon of qualified scientists, can stand up in court and swear that Corporal Jane, to a reasonable scientific certainty, is disabled as she now is because she was exposed to the PCBs of Fort McClellan.
It's not like the veterans of Fort McClellan haven't been trying to get their Health Registry. They have their own website, Vets for Justice where you can learn a lot more about their struggle. Just as the Camp LeJeune water victims had their Jerry Ensminger, the Fort McClellan vets have their own heroine, a woman named Sue Frasier, who somehow persuaded Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY21) to introduce into the House of Representatives H.R. 2052, The Fort McClellan Health Registry Act, which has for quite some time been languishing under a table, or at the back of some forgotten file drawer, without a single co-sponsor.
This is where you come in. You can help these women, women who long ago put on a uniform to serve a not so grateful nation, only to have their bodies ravaged by unseen toxins carelessly wrought on them by an uncaring military indusrial complex. Now, in what should have been their golden years, they're more likely looking for a good used hoveround, because there's no VA program to help them get even that much assistance. There's no VA medical program dedicated to identifying and treating those of their illnesses that can be treated. Because the VA doesn't have the proof, statistical or otherwise, that their debillitation came from Fort McClellan.
Get to your keyboard and email your Representative, get out your pen and paper and write him a letter, get on your telephone and call her office, both in the district and in D.C., go down to Western Union and send a telegram, go sit in the Congressperson's local office with a printed out hard copy of this diary to hand to the highest ranking person you can talk to, bring your friends, drag in people off the street, create a flash mob (call the local tv station first), go to a Town Hall and hand a copy of this to your Representative personally, get me to borrow that carrier pigeon if you must, but get your Representative to do for the women of Fort McClellan, for Corporal Mary, what they did for Pfc. Johnny of Viet Nam and the Marines of Camp LeJeune. Get them to co-sponsor H.R. 2052.
After you do that, and I know you will because your sense of Justice demands it, please take a few minutes and fill out a short questionaire we're using to help us keep track of which Representatives have been contacted, and what, if any response you get. Or, if you prefer, send an email to email@example.com to let them know who you contacted, what and how you did.
We're in this for the long haul. We hope you'll join us.
UPDATE: Thanks to HoundDog in the comments below, here's a link that will ease the process of econtacting your Representative.