(BEDFORD) – Lawrence County Veterans Affairs Officer Brad Bough addressed the commissioners Tuesday morning about veterans being exposed to contaminated drinking water while stationed or working at the US Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
“They are finding it is just as bad as those diseases affecting Vietnam veterans,” Bough added.
From the 1950s through the 1980s people living or working at Camp Lejeune were potentially exposed to drinking water highly contaminated with solvents like benzene and other chemicals. Veterans can now receive a portion of government disability benefits.
“It is one of few instances in which former military personnel who weren’t deployed for war could become eligible for cash payouts,” says Bough. “There is sufficient scientific and medical evidence to establish a “strong association” between exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune and these medical conditions:”
- Adult Leukemia
- Aplastic Anemia and other Myelodysplastic Syndromes
- Bladder Cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Liver Cancer
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Parkinson’s Disease
Disability benefits may supplement VA health care already being provided to eligible veterans who were stationed at the Marine base for at least 30 cumulative days between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. Veterans will have to submit evidence of their diagnoses and service information.
Documents uncovered by veterans groups over the years suggest Marine leaders were slow to respond when tests first found evidence of contaminated groundwater 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.
Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, who was stationed at Camp Lejeune when his daughter, Janey, was conceived in 1975. Janey died of leukemia when she was nine. Spurred by Ensminger’s case, Congress in 2012 passed a bill signed into law by President Barack Obama extending free VA medical care to injured 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.
Ensminger credited North Carolina Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis for their efforts. Burr introduced the 2012 legislation to provide free VA medical care for veterans and their families who served at least 30 days of active duty at Camp Lejeune from January 1, 1957 – December 31, 1987, for 15 covered health conditions at no cost including co-payments.
Affected veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune may now submit applications for benefits and should contact Bough at the Veterans Affair Office in the Lawrence County Courthouse.