I’m Damaged. I’m Invisible.

The following is a personal story submitted to Civilian Exposure and published as part of our new series: “Contamination Chronicles: Personal Stories of Exposure”. If you would like to submit your story, you may fill out our form here or send directly via email to [email protected]

I served at Naval Facility Coos Head, Oregon for 13 months from 1986 to the shutdown of its array in 1987. Since leaving my first duty station I began having unexplained neurological issues including complex partial seizure disorder, of which I received a service connected disability of 40% in 1988.

I wish that my chronic illnesses ended there.

I had endometriosis so severe that my uterus was attached to my colon. It was removed at age 40. My thyroid gland removed at age 29 because a nodule had grown so large it interfered with swallowing food and fluids, 6 surgeries to repair my shoulders, ending in a total joint replacement in my right shoulder due to osteoarthritis age 39 and 2014, a second one. Now I have radiculopathy and neuropathy of my right arm due to central stenosis and osteoarthritis of my neck.

All this and I’m not even 50 years old!

I never played sports. I found out my base was contaminated last year, by Googling it just because I was reminiscing about my old duty stations. I was poisoned there, living inside a barracks covered by asbestos paint, one of seven dump sites was 150 feet away from where I slept for my shifts. Since my base was on a bluff overlooking Bastendorff Beach, the flow of toxins passed in the groundwater and traveled under the terminal building where I worked 72 hours a week. The beach is contaminated with Araclor 1260, dioxins, Vietnam Era herbicides and pesticides, lead and benzene, and I believe I am suffering from a multiple system illness from exposure. How? – Soil vapor intrusion while working 72 hours on the watch floor.

I have gulf war illness and it is homegrown.

There’s not a damn thing I can do about it because there is no registry for me. The base closed, but there are US Navy personnel working in the terminal building remotely as a satellite from Pacific Beach, Washington. They are going to get sick too, because even though the base was “cleaned up”, the contamination still exists beneath the four feet of soil they removed and probably dumped somewhere else.

What about the risk to human life before the discovery of the toxins? Or the 120 personnel stationed there that don’t know and were never told they were breathing in toxic, cancer-causing chemicals?

I have a doctor for every ailment I have. They think I’m crazy. I can’t get the help I need to expose this. I can’t find the environmental help to get seen by the VA because I am not Gulf War, Camp Lejeune or Agent Orange.

I’m damaged. I’m invisible.


Note from the Editor: The author currently resides in Virginia. The account/editorial is verbatim from the author without edit, with only the omission of their name to preserve anonymity.

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Civilian Exposure

Civilian Exposure is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization/public charity working to Build Awareness, Accountability and Assistance for Civilians Exposed to Camp Lejeune Water Contamination and all citizens exposed to any toxic contamination aboard all U.S. military installations. The effort continues to inform civilian employees and others affected by contamination to receive both the guidance and the justice they deserve.

About the Founder
A 20-year veteran of media, marketing, non-profits and entrepreneurship, Gavin P. Smith leads Civilian Exposure, a non-profit assisting civilians and veterans exposed to U.S. military contamination; the Keta Foundation, a collaborative foundation dedicated to mitigating modern slavery through economic improvement projects in Africa; and Gavin Consulting, a network of virtual experts serving global clients; He is also a former member of the CDC/ATSDR Camp Lejeune Community Assistance Panel. Mr. Smith holds a Master of Global Management with distinction (Beta Gamma Sigma) from Thunderbird School of Global Management, an MBA from The College of William & Mary Mason School of Business and a BA in History from Wake Forest University.

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