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Camp Lejeune veterans exposed to toxic water can begin applying for benefits

(WITN)
Published: Jan. 12, 2017 at 7:25 PM EST
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Tuesday is the day Camp Lejeune Marines sickened by tainted water at the base for decades can begin filing claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs for compensation.

The VA says it will pay out $2.2 billion over the next five years to people who served at Camp Lejeune for 30 consecutive days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987. The diseases the VA says they will compensate for include:

(1) Kidney cancer

(2) Liver cancer

(3) Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

(4) Adult leukemia

(5) Multiple myeloma

(6) Parkinson's disease

(7) Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes

(8) Bladder cancer

Chemicals from a dry cleaner leaked into the water people used for cooking, cleaning and all household purposes for decades, and they have been linked to these illnesses.

You can read more about the claims being accepted by clicking

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$2.2 billion over the next five years. That's how much the federal government agreed to pay to provide disability benefits to veterans exposed to tainted water at Camp Lejuene more than 30 year ago.

"I'm hoping that this is the first step of many that will help civilians, civilian employees, I think that children who were born on the base as well, they need to be helped also," says Gavin Smith, the creator of Civilian Exposure.

At this time, the funds are available for veterans, but it will not help someone like Mike Partain who was born at Camp Lejeune and developed a rare form of cancer.

"I was diagnosed with male breast cancer, which is a very rare disease for young men and I'm one of over a hundred men who were either dependents or Marines or employees of the base that was exposed to the contaminated water that now has male breast cancer," he tells WITN.

It also doesn't cover civilian workers like Gavin Smith's father who died from acute leukemia, something considered to be as a result of the tainted water.

"He had a lot of different issues starting around 2000 and ending up passing away from acute leukemia in 2008 and he didn't know about the contamination," Smith explains.

The rule covers active duty, reserve and National Guard members who developed one of eight diseases and served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days cumulative between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. Veterans will have to submit evidence of their diagnosis and service information.

Dependents hope the federal government will look to assist them as well.

Getting the VA to recognize several other illnesses, including male breast cancer, is the next big step that advocacy groups say they are hoping to see and followed by getting legislation to help anyone who became ill due to exposure to this water.

An advocacy group called The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, which has been working on the contaminated water issue, is having a public meeting where they will help answer questions of those who may have been affected by the tainted water.

The meeting takes place January 21st at the Courtyard Hotel in Jacksonville and members say VA representatives will also be there to help.

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WASHINGTON, DC (WITN) - The Obama administration has agreed to provide disability benefits totaling more than $2 billion to veterans who had been exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

The decision was quietly made public Thursday with a notice in the Federal Register, the government's official journal.

Beginning in March, the cash payouts from the Department of Veterans Affairs may supplement VA health care already being provided to eligible veterans stationed at the Marine base for at least 30 days cumulative between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. Veterans will have to submit evidence of their diagnosis and service information.

Outgoing VA Secretary Bob McDonald determined that there was "sufficient scientific and medical evidence" to establish a connection between exposure to the contaminated water and eight medical conditions for purposes of awarding disability compensation.

The estimated taxpayer cost is $2.2 billion over a five-year period. The VA estimates that as many as 900,000 service members were potentially exposed to the tainted water.

"This is good news," said retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose daughter Janey was born in 1976 while he was stationed at Lejeune. Janey died from leukemia at age 9. Ensminger now heads a veterans group, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, which advocates for those seeking disability compensation.

"This has been a hard, long slog," said Ensminger, who says the government must go further in covering additional diseases. "This is not the end of the issue."

The new rule covers active duty, Reserve and National Guard members who developed one of eight diseases: adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Parkinson's disease.

Documents uncovered by veterans groups over the years suggest Marine leaders were slow to respond when tests first found evidence of contaminated ground water at Camp Lejeune in the early 1980s. Some drinking water wells were closed in 1984 and 1985, after further testing confirmed contamination from leaking fuel tanks and an off-base dry cleaner. The Marine Corps has said the contamination was unintentional, occurring when federal law didn't limit toxins in drinking water.

Spurred by Ensminger's case, Congress in 2012 passed a bill signed into law by President Barack Obama extending free VA medical care to affected veterans and their families. But veterans were not automatically provided disability aid or survivor benefits. The issue has prompted lawsuits by veterans organizations, which note that military personnel in Camp Lejeune housing "drank, cooked and bathed" in contaminated water for years.

"Expanded coverage is making progress, but we also need to know whether the government may be purposefully leaving people out," said Rick Weidman, executive director of Vietnam Veterans of America.

Affected veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune may now submit applications for benefits, once the rule is officially published Friday. Roughly 1,400 disability claims related to Lejeune are already pending, and will be reviewed immediately, according to the VA.

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The Obama administration has agreed to provide disability benefits totaling more than $2 billion to veterans who had been exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Military personnel must have served at Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1953 and December 1987.

Beginning in March, the cash payouts from the Department of Veterans Affairs may supplement VA health care already being provided to eligible veterans.

The estimated taxpayer cost is $2.2 billion over five years. The VA estimates that as many as 900,000 service members were potentially exposed.

The rule covers active duty, Reserve and National Guard members who developed one of eight diseases.

The decision was quietly made public Thursday with a notice in the government's official journal, Federal Register.

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