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Fort Detrick faces $2 billion in claims from residents
Originally published March 12, 2011
By Megan Eckstein
Many of the claims submitted to Fort Detrick deal with cancer cases near Fort Detrick’s Area B. The county and state health departments are investigating a possible cancer cluster.
WHAT: The next meeting to discuss their findings
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Monday
WHERE: First-floor hearing room, Winchester Hall, 12 E. Church St.
CAN’T ATTEND? The meeting will also be shown live on Channel 19 and at www.frederickcountymd.gov/video
Forty-two local residents have submitted claims against Fort Detrick over the past few weeks, requesting more than $2 billion for deaths, illnesses, loss of property and other damages for which they say the Army post is responsible.
The Kristen Renee Foundation, a group seeking to prove Fort Detrick's chemical testing and groundwater contamination caused hundreds of health problems nearby, handed out about 1,000 claims forms at a November event. Those forms are now trickling into Fort Detrick's legal office. The Kristen Renee Foundation is aware of more than 200 people who plan to file claims, foundation spokeswoman Rachel Pisani said.
Forty of the 42 request $50 million each in damages, Fort Detrick spokesman Chuck Gordon said, adding that a batch of forms arrived together and several more were sent individually. The other two claims ask for significantly less in damages.....
None included supporting documentation, Gordon said.
To file a claim against the government, a person must first fill out a Standard Form 95 with thorough information and provide any documentation they have, including medical records, doctor's statements, death certificates, insurance claims or whatever else supports their case. The Army post's staff judge advocate reviews the forms to determine whether the claims are valid.
The legal team can either accept or deny claims or request more information.
Fort Detrick attorney Gary Zolyak advised Gordon that the burden of proof lies with the claimant, and that the question isn't whether the claimant suffered but rather whether the Army was negligent in its actions. Zolyak said most of the claims forms are only a couple of sentences long and have no supporting documentation, so it would be hard for the Army to accept them.
Fort Detrick will have 180 days to process each claim. If a claim is denied, the claimant can go to court as an individual or as part of a class-action suit.
"Fort Detrick is more than willing to receive and process any such claims, and will move them forward provided they are complete, fully documented and are deemed valid by our legal experts," Gordon said in an e-mail.
Gordon said some of the claims mention Area B, the site of a former landfill that leaked contaminants into the groundwater in the 1990s.
He said none of the claims mentions Agent Orange, which has been a hot topic since local and state health officials began investigating whether a cancer cluster exists in Frederick. Fort Detrick researched Agent Orange from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Instead of containing specific information, Gordon said the claims request a payout as a result of the death of someone who lived near Fort Detrick, implying that the cancer was caused by the installation.
Pisani said the Kristen Renee Foundation invited lawyers at its November event to help people with questions about their rights or how to approach filing a claim.
She said the foundation also provided contact information for law firms when residents asked for help, but they did not tell residents how to phrase their complaints or specify what to include in the document.
Pisani said many of the claims are for loss of life or for illnesses people blame on Fort Detrick, but some are for loss of property value as a result of Fort Detrick's actions, and some were for loss of property. She said the foundation is urging anyone who believes Fort Detrick is responsible for any harm to complete a form.
"I would expect this is just the beginning of many, many, many claims the Army will receive," she said.