Voices of Ft. McClellan vets silenced daily by DC gridlock

In the wake of disturbing results from investigations into the Department of Veterans Affairs and the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki, Congress must recognize and act upon problems forgotten groups of veterans across the nation suffer every day, many of which don’t receive the care or attention they deserve.

Many of us know veterans and active duty members. They are brothers, mothers, best friends, the person in the mirror and so many more. When these service members entered the service, they didn’t do so for the benefits promised or some get rich quick scheme. American veterans signed up and wore the uniform under a sense of duty and desire to keep our nation safe. These are the last people members of Congress should break our country’s promises with. Yet, that is what is happening to an unknown number of Americans who served at Fort McClellan in Alabama for decades.

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For years, a growing number of those who served at Fort McClellan in Alabama have reported crippling health problems. Those suffering report a range of afflictions including asthma, autoimmune disorders, and fibromyalgia. McClellan was one of our primary chemical and biological training centers for years, and many veterans and their families are questioning if their illnesses are service connected.

We can find the answers to the questions these veterans and their families have by passing H.R. 411, the Fort McClellan Health Registry Act, which would establish a health registry of veterans who were stationed at McClellan. By gathering this important data, we can begin the process of definitively determining whether service time at Fort McClellan made our soldiers ill.

I have introduced this legislation each Congress dating back to 2009, when a constituent who served at McClellan brought this critical issue to my attention. This is our third attempt at getting the bill passed and today it enjoys the largest bipartisan support it has ever seen.

We are gaining momentum, but time is running out. I plan to continue working for the rest of this session of Congress to get this passed, but I need your help.

Call and write your members of Congress, write a letter to your local paper, and talk to your friends and family about this. This issue has affected veterans who are now scattered across the nation, and we can combat Congressional inaction on the Fort McClellan Health Registry Act by scattering our support for the bill from coast to coast.

We have to get loud, and we have to make trouble.

Politicians in Washington cannot claim they support the troops while allowing problems like this to exist unchallenged. We have a solution in front of us. All we need is a vote. For that to happen, we need Americans – whether they’ve worn the uniform or not – to let their representatives in elected office know that they want action.

If you agree with me and the dozens of bipartisan members of Congress that we owe it to those that served at Fort McClellan to see if there are patterns of health issues connected to their service, please join me. Pick up the phone, tweet, post on Facebook, email or meet with your representative and tell them to cosponsor H.R. 411.

Simply said, Washington will continue to silence the voices of a currently innumerable group of veterans and break the promises our nation made to those brave men and women in uniform every day the Fort McClellan Health Registry Act is ignored and denied a simple up-or-down vote on the House floor.

All we are asking for is more information. And a registry will do just that; provide information to determine whether Fort McClellan may have made veterans ill. The Fort McClellan Health Registry Act deserves a simple vote.

Our efforts must start today.  

Tonko has served congressional districts from New York's Capital District region since 2009. He sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

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