ATLANTA - A Channel 2 Investigation discovered a growing number of local veterans who claim exposure to toxic chemicals at a nearby U.S. Army base has made them sick.
Investigative reporter Aaron Diamant and producer Patti DiVincenzo have spent months digging into this issue. The deeper they got, the more troubling it got.
Countless former soldiers battling all kinds of very serious health problems are coming forward. They all served their country on the same base, and they all say it's time for their country step up.
"I'm going to fight. I'm going to fight with everything I have," promised former Army MP Lisa Hill. "The physician came out crying and said that, in front of my children as well, that I had 3-C colon cancer."
Hill told Diamant the diagnosis was devastating.
"At first there was kind of that crushing, crushing feeling as a family," Hill recalled before breaking down in tears.
As the treatment takes its toll, Hill, now a Cobb County nurse, seems convinced the Army base where she served decades ago made her sick.
"That's my purpose, to get it out there," Hill said.
From 1935 until it closed in 1999, tens of thousands of soldiers cycled through Ft. McClellan, outside Anniston, Alabama -- about 90 miles west of Atlanta. The base was home to the Army's Women's Corps, military police school and Chemical Corps.
It’s where the military conducted chemical and biological training, and ran chemical weapons tests.
Hill is just one of a fast growing number of former soldiers who have come forward claiming exposure to toxic chemicals on the base has caused not just cancer, but other horrible health problems.
"We see so much death, so much sickness," said David Baker, a community activist in Anniston.
The city of Anniston itself is toxic. Chemical giants Monsanto and Solutia have shelled out more than $1 billion in damages and cleanup costs after a massive chemical plant on the other side of town dumped tons of dangerous PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) into the air, ground, and water for decades.
Baker, who is also a funeral director, led the charge against the company.
"I pick up so many folks," Baker said. "I got where I don't even look in their face anymore, because it's heartbreaking just to continuously look at see people that you knew and know."
The federal government funded a health study on the town's citizens, but so far have refused to do any on the Ft. McClellan veterans.
Now, those soldiers who've gotten sick have taken their case to Capitol Hill. They're backing a House resolution that would force the Department of Veterans Affairs to take action.
"We will push until we're successful here," said Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko of Albany, New York.
In Tonko's Washington, D.C., office, he told Diamant why he's again sponsoring legislation requiring VA to build a registry of all Ft. McClellan veterans and their health status. Advocates say the plan is a critical step to assure access to more VA benefits.
"Why don't we do what's right here," Tonko declared. "Let's serve justice."
That justice is also being sought by veteran Sue Frasier, who served at Ft. McClellan in the early 1970s. After years of battling debilitating medical problems, and government roadblocks, Frasier brought the issue to Tonko.
"For every time I come here, I am reminded about those who are so terribly sick and in such financial dire straits that they are incapable of pulling off this job," Frasier said.
It's a mission for action and answers.
"We did what you asked, we did what was expected, and now it's your turn to stand up and do the right thing," said Hill.
During Diamant’s investigation, he came across an email from a top Department of Defense Official saying the agency opposes a mandatory registry for the Ft. McClellan veterans because it would be too complicated and too expensive.
Despite several attempts, the Department of Veterans Affairs has not answered any of Diamant’s questions.