It has been a while since I have taken the time to sit down and write a long editorial about the topic of military contamination and world events at large. I have been, in point of fact, caring for my elderly mother full-time. With my father gone 12 years now thanks to Camp Lejeune toxic groundwater contamination, I find myself operating in a different way than I expected. Instead of traveling the world and working for a variety of media or start-ups, I am working independently (as best as possible) from my home. My time is typically divided between growing my own individual consulting business, managing this news site and nonprofit, and handling everything on the home front imaginable. Regardless, I am grateful for what I have and where I am today.
Over the past 3-4 years, my mother has experienced some significant health scares that we’ve had to manage together. I almost lost her twice in 2016 during a 6-week stay in the hospital, and have had to navigate through a variety of procedures off and on since. I am happy to say that she is doing quite well, but it has been somewhat of an exhausting journey of late. It is also the main reason why I have not been able to give my full attention to Civilian Exposure in recent months. For that, I apologize. While I am happy to have amassed the information and stories we’ve done over the past 3-4 years, I know that I need to keep replenishing the well with new research, stories of interest and helping to influence change. Going forward, I intend to re-double my efforts doing just that.
I sit here turning another year older today, and was hesitant to even write this. I try to make sure with everything published on this site that it is completely data-driven and helpful. Sometimes, my pursuit of the “perfect” hinders the “good”. This is not a perfect editorial by far, but I felt compelled to open up in a stream of consciousness about the issue, because I believe that many of you share my feelings.
I want to share my overall thoughts and observations over the past year or two and how they shape my thinking today about the subject of toxic military contamination. I hear often from many of you asking:
- “What can be done for my family?”
- “What is being done to help veterans exposed? Their families? Their children?
- As a child of a former service member born on a base, am I now (years later) at risk for significant health issues?
- “How can I learn more about what went on at X base?”
- “Is there a test I can take?”
- “Can you recommend and provide info about doctors, lawyers, nexus letters, studies, and other sources that I can use for my claim?”
- “Will the VA ever be held accountable?
- “Why does it feel like nothing is happening and that nobody cares?”
To all of you, I agree with your feelings and have felt them myself a bit more intensely given the ongoing situation we all find ourselves in today. And let me be completely forthcoming and share with you that I simply don’t have all the answers, but I try to find them for each of you as best as I can. Over the past 7 years, this issue has forced me to become a better informed expert on the topic, not for my own gain, but to simply answer as much as I can and help to inform as many as I can.
I have watched as politicians argue over costs for a variety of bills, while happily doling out billions to their special interest backers and industries in their base of support. I listen as people debate the idea of helping those outside our country, all while many inside our country continue to suffer. I witness various national or state emergencies declared, stimulus and bailouts debated, politicians pandering, and yet see no action when it comes to an issue that has been around for the past 50 years – toxic military contamination.
What about us?
Some critics may dismiss what I’m saying here as “whataboutism”. I find that word interesting, because it is much easier for someone to criticize and assign terms when they themselves have not been affected. However, I think a large majority of you out there feel as I do. I believe that we all often utter to ourselves and to family members as we watch the nightly news – “what about us?”
- Where is our national emergency?
- Where is our all-hands-on-deck response?
- Where is our funding to remedy the situation?
- Where are the fast-track cures being developed?
- Why are base clean-ups stalled, claims in limbo, access to care and compensation denied?
- Why is coronavirus more important or urgent than exposures to military contamination?
I could go on and on. I’m sure you could too. Without getting too technical, I’ll use some very rough math here to illustrate the point. Take for example the contamination at Camp Lejeune, where 900,000 were possibly exposed and impacted. Even if you conservatively drop that number to 500,000 for every base that has been, is, or will be on the EPA Superfund Site list for contamination cleanup, the number of potentially exposed in America could be somewhere around 75-100 million people, or around 1/3rd of the total population. That doesn’t even begin to enumerate the impact from emerging stories about the use of AFFF at over 600 bases in the country, causing separate health issues from PFAS exposure. Nor does it include any offspring of exposed parents. We know that DNA can be altered by long-term chemical exposure. Those fundamental alterations can lead to other health issues passed to children. The impact simply goes far beyond the individual servicemember or spouse.
There are 18.2 million veterans in the United States, according to the most recent statistics from the US Census. More than nine million veterans are served each year by the Department of Veterans Affairs. There were a total of 1.3 million active duty military and more than 800,000 reserve forces as of September 2017, according to Defense Department personnel data. That number has likely increased significantly with increased DOD budgets in recent years. Add it all up, the total should be around 20 million. These numbers above do not count the thousands that have died in the past 50 years, either in service or due to a health issue likely derived from an exposure. For the sake of the argument, use 25 million as the estimate. Now add on one spouse and one child, and our rough estimates of 75-100 million begin to seem not so far-fetched.
Now, given that almost a 1/3rd of our population has likely been exposed to something within the military system, or as a result of it, where is the cavalry? Where is the all-of-government approach to solving the problem? We have national emergencies for a virus that, while certainly deadly and an impact on the health of thousands around the world, is nowhere near the impact of military contamination exposure over the past 4-5 decades. Yet, we can marshal resources, money, equipment, and checks in the mail within a 1-2 week time frame. Bailouts fly about while many of us are still waiting today for VA approval of their claims simply to receive free medical care for a condition that has already ravaged their bodies and their bank accounts.
Why can’t we make them whole again? “We have to look at how to offset the costs”, Republicans and Democrats say. “There has to be a way to pay for it” we hear all of the time. Yet, money magically appeared recently for coronavirus, as the government pumps fiscal stimulus into the economy out of nowhere, and even throws millions at unrelated items to fulfill political wish lists. The Fed pumps billions into the markets on the monetary side. We’re essentially printing our way through the current crisis with people seem to think is a bottomless well of money. There is no such thing, but they’re doing it anyway.
If the Congress can come up with 2 trillion dollars in 2 weeks for coronavirus, why not pass similar relief for those impacted by toxic military contamination? If we can declare a national emergency to build a border wall and redirect billions of funds to projects such as this, why can’t we declare a similar emergency and move money around from other nonessential bureaucracy and put it to real use in the VA system for exposed veterans? Why is it that veterans can still walk into a VA clinic today and mention a contamination issue and VA doctors give them a blank stare, having not even been given guidance on them? It’s ridiculous. Ask any one of you, and I’m sure everyone will agree that our exposures and the impacts over the years are worth an equivalent emergency response.
To be completely honest, I admit that I am fed up. I am tired of the indifference. It’s admittedly tough to keep fighting, day in and day out. From my first learning about this issue in 2013, I knew that little would happen to address it. I remember sitting in on meetings at the CDC in Atlanta many years ago. In those meetings, I listened as the military stonewalled with vague excuses or uttered “we’ll get back to you on that”. They never did. I took note of the disdain I heard in the voices of those from the VA system. They didn’t care.
My immediate instinct as I participated in this issue initially was that the government will act very much like any typical business. With a business background myself, I understood from the jump that the first priority for the government would be to always mitigate their risk and limit their financial exposure on the issue. Stall, delay, deny, request more studies, obfuscate the facts, maintain opaqueness when it comes to documents and data, and simply wait it out. Why? Because for every one of you that dies off, that is a reduction in the amount of financial risk they are ultimately exposed to. Shrink the pool and the liability lowers. The government knows, from the President down to the VA and military, that taking the blame now means they will be on the hook for trillions of dollars (especially if every single person exposed could file and receive a claim amount in return). Imagine a stimulus payout or restitution paid out to 75 million in this country, as well as free healthcare on the government dime to address contamination exposure needs! The costs would be astronomical, no question.
Please don’t hold me to any numbers as hard data in this piece. But to use rough math once more, let’s imagine hypothetically that we wake up tomorrow and the government realizes that they are the culprit of mass military contamination exposures across the country. Let’s say they settle on a fund to provide $100,000 to each individual, plus free healthcare going forward. First, such a payout would cost the government $7.5 trillion dollars. Free healthcare could equal that or more and I don’t have enough data to even make a rough estimate, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s just say it’s $1,000,000 worth of free healthcare per person over the rest of their lifetimes. Given the high costs of procedures, treatments and meds, that’s not a lot when you think about it. Regardless, that adds an additional $75 trillion. Together, how about a roughly $80 trillion bailout for 1/3rd of the population? Not going to happen. That’s four times the current national debt.
Again, the numbers are just rough estimates. It may be that the numbers might be much lower, but we simply have no way of knowing because there does not exist a complete health registry dedicated to toxic military exposures. Don’t expect one anytime soon. For the sake of argument, let’s say the numbers are better than we’ve estimated (less people impacted). If you average just 100,000 people impacted per base on the EPA Superfund list (instead of 500,000 assumption we used earlier), then that number still roughly comes in at 15 million people impacted across the country, requiring an expenditure of roughly 1.5 trillion in proposed payouts (our $100,000 payout hypothesis used earlier) and $15 trillion in total healthcare coverage over a number of years (providing $1 million in healthcare coverage per person impacted). Even that number, while lower, comes close to the current national debt amassed as a whole over the entire 244 years of American existence.
You’re all smart enough to know that the government/military will continue to fight tooth and nail to deny as many as possible, or reduce the cost as much as possible to the government. They are already doing this by:
- limiting the number of illnesses tied to exposures
- limiting the number of exposures considered “presumptive”
- slowing studies for each new illness explored
- rejecting a large percentage of claims or keeping them in limbo for years
- addressing military contamination in a piecemeal fashion (ie. action for one base, inaction for others)
- reducing funding for cleanup efforts, or simply prolonging them
- divide and conquer (addressing contamination base-by-base at different speeds and intensity)
Divided, we fall
Again, I am not purporting to have hard numbers or data here. This is an editorial opinion piece. I’d even call it a personal rant really. But these are my feelings and thoughts about the situation, where it has been, and where it appears to be going. It serves to illustrate the much larger point.
The only true way to effect the change we all seek is to pool our resources, communities, and groups together under one national coalition and target that effort directly on Congress. In essence, we have to become the biggest, most well-funded lobbying group in the country. Yes, there are many different types of toxic military contamination. From Agent Orange exposures and the Blue Water Navy Vets to Iraqi burn pits and toxic groundwater contamination at US base communities around the world, we are all fighting for the very same thing – justice and restitution for the brutal impact on all of our families. For all of our different base communities and groups to be fighting independently against a unified government is a tactic that will never succeed.
It should be obvious to you that I remain completely frustrated with our government, with the military, the VA and others involved in muddying up this process over the years. You have a right to be angered by it. I certainly am. Many of you write in daily about your health problems, the death of someone close to you, the lack of assistance from the VA, the indifference of your representatives in Congress, on and on. I read countless emails from all around the world from folks like you, desperately trying to understand the complexity of the issue, the impacts, and how to try and seek help. The stories of loss are simply heartbreaking.
We need a fundamental paradigm shift in this country. We need to make those exposed whole again. Money and healthcare can’t bring back those we’ve lost, but it can help alleviate the burdens that so many of us carry on for many years after their passing, and can help so many others currently in their own healthcare fight. Our veterans, their family members, and those civilians that work to keep our bases running every day need to be taken care of. The failure of the government to be accountable for this is a tragedy that has been playing out for many years now, with seemingly no end in sight.
The next time you hear your political representatives in Washington espousing about how they do so much for the military and love our folks in uniform, simply ask yourself this question –
“What have you done to resolve this for me and for all of the folks I know struggling? What monies and support have you specifically authorized to address the national problem of toxic military contamination?”
Then, take their answer to heart, and then take the answer with you to the ballot box. Maybe then we will see new blood in the Congress and in government agencies – people willing to take the bold leaps needed to address military contamination rampant across the country and put the issue to bed once and for all.
I will wrap up my rant now, but I will do so returning to my original premise. If we can move mountains to address acute issues in our society, why can we not address the systemic ones with equal vigor and speed?
To Congress and those in power – end this fight.
Restore accountability. Make those who have suffered so much as whole as possible once more. Give us all peace of mind that justice for our loved ones is truly attainable. I don’t know about you, but I want justice for my father. I want restitution for the financial hardships caused by his early departure from this Earth at the hands of the negligence of the government in dealing with Camp Lejeune contamination. I want transparency on the scope of all contamination within the military and the impacts. I want scientists to look into and rapidly establish ALL diseases or health impacts that are associated, or presumed associated, with exposure to toxic chemicals. I want acknowledgement from those in power that my father’s life mattered. I want assurances that this will never happen to families all over this country, ever again.
Editor’s Note: Please feel free to share your stories of exposure, article ideas, documentation for issues you want to see covered and more using the following links. I try to read and respond to as many as possible. Thank you.