“Yes to the Troops, No to the Wars.” Quaker House puts that into action everyday. Joanna talks in her article about the continuing challenges of domestic violence. And Steve reports that the GI Rights Network is seeing increased pressure to raise retention numbers that is effecting people seeking discharge. This work is the core of Quaker House until we have an end to wars and militarism. At the same time, military participants are facing new challenges and new concerns.
While Ukraine fills our media with violence and mayhem, gone is attention to the daily experience of the military participant, unless there is a flash-point. A year ago newspapers were reporting on suicides on Navy vessels, now there is silence. Despite a recent report showing cases of mold on military bases, the New York Times website only has articles from 2019 and 2020. Most days, the only mention of diseases from contaminated water or air on military bases comes from advertisements by lawyers seeking PACT Act clients.
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and remember the reports about Love Canal, Super Fund sites, and other areas of industrial contamination. In 1983 the movie Silkwood told us about a woman investigating workers exposure to radiation at a plant making fuel rods for a reactor. Then in 2000, Erin Brokovich taught people about water contaminants causing cancer. I don’t remember big movies about people poisoned by their military participation.
Last summer I wrote a post for the Quaker House website noting that the Department of Defense was accepting applications for compensation for exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. As of the beginning of April, that post has received 77 comments. The vast majority of these were from former military members or their families asking if a disease or condition was related to their presence at Fort Bragg or another facility.
In February, the US Environmental Protection Agency proposed limits on the “forever chemicals” or PFAS at no more then 4 parts per trillion (ppt). In December of 2022, Military Times reported on 24 installations with water levels over 70 parts per trillion, including Fort Bragg (98 ppt). Fort Leavenworth in Kansas was found to have 649 ppt in 2016. It isn’t clear how many would be over the new EPA standard of 4 ppt. It might be easier to count the number that don’t exceed the new standard. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine listed people who were particularly at risk from PFAS contamination. They included workers at air fields, military bases, and incinerators.
It took levels of 25,000 ppt for a settlement at Camp Lejeune which already had 20,000 claims filed by early February. The government has estimated that it will spend over $163 billion in just 10 years. If we assume those numbers would apply to 450 current US military facilities (and ignore all the past ones), it would cost the nation over $73 trillion. As a comparison, all Social Security benefits cost the government an estimated $1 trillion per year. These are numbers that are almost impossible for us to imagine, and they would cripple the government.
Neither the Pentagon nor the Veterans Administration have a history of advocating for current and past military participants, their families, and civilians suffering long-term disease and disability. To the contrary, past history says that they will fight accepting responsibility for these injuries. From 2007 (when the Disabled American Veterans started highlighting the issue) to 2020 the VA rejected nearly 80% of claims for injury due to burn pit exposures, and it took the recently passed PACT Act to remove the requirement of proving a relationship between exposure and injury. The price of the act is expected to be over $300 billion over ten years separate from the Camp Lejeune claims.
54 years ago, Quaker House started in response to the immediate, urgent, needs of military participants suffering from their inability to participate in war and militarism. In the 2010s, we were ahead of many in addressing the harms of sexual assault, substance abuse, and domestic violence caused by military participation. Now the Pentagon has special programs and criminal procedures that claim to be able to handle these issues.
Quaker House wants to extend our commitment to those affected in the military, whether participants themselves or as family members or civilians. We want to work with groups who have focused on the medical and environmental elements of contamination to address the damage done to participants by the simple act of being present on base, of drinking the water, or of breathing the air.
If you have knowledge of people who have had their health damaged or destroyed from their participation, please contact Quaker House. If you have ideas and energy to help us with this work, please contact Quaker House. As always, we rely on the wisdom and support of everyone who shares our commitment to serving those who have been injured by our nation’s militarism.