The Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Tuesday, September 23 that
it will soon cover out of pocket health care costs for Marine dependents
who contracted cancer and other illnesses from toxic water at Camp LeJeune.
In 2012, Congress passed the landmark legislation,
Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp LeJeune Families Act . The Act provided health care for Marines and family members who lived
on the base near Jacksonville, N.C., from 1957 through 1987, and who suffered
from any of 15 illnesses named in the law. Illnesses included cancer related
to the lungs, bladder, breasts, kidneys and esophagus, as well as leukemia
and problems involving female infertility. During that period, at least
two of the water treatment facilities supplying drinking water to the
Camp LeJeune Marine base were contaminated with volatile organic compounds
that included industrial solvents and benzene from fuels. The chemicals
resulted from spills, a dump site on base, leaking underground storage
tanks on base, and an off base dry cleaner. The level of perchoroethylene
in the base drinking water exceeded acceptable levels. An estimated 750,000
people wer exposed.
In 2005, the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances
and Disease Registry began a study which suggested evidence of an assoication
between chronic exposure to perchoroethylene and the following:
- Kidney Cancer
- Esophageal Cancer
- Bladder Cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Lung Cancer
Under the 2012 law, the VA immediately offered full care for veterans who
had been stationed at Camp LeJeune, but it told their dependents who suffered
from covered illnesses that they would have to wait to be reimbursed.
The announcement of final rules Tuesday means the VA will begin to reimburse
family members for costs since March 26, 2013, that were not covered by
insurance. The VA also plans to release a document about health care services
to veterans who were on active duty at the base for at least 30 days in
the three decade period.
Retired Marine Jerry Ensminger, whose 9 year old daughter, Janey, died
of leukemia in 1985, and Mike Partain who was born at the base and suffered
from male breast cancer, led a long fight to get the law passed. Both
said they were dismayed that it took two years to put the law into effect.
As far as I'm concerned, so many people have already died. They just
keep dragging this thing out., Ensminger said. Partain said
institutional apathy and incompetence were the reasons it took two years
to write and approve the regulations for how the law would be administered.
For veterans, reimbursement of co payments would go back to August 6, 2012
when the law was signed. The law does not provide veterans with disability
compensation. Veterans and family members can apply for the Camp LeJeune
benefits by enrolling with the VA online or at a local VA health facility.
The VA said veterans must prove they lived or worked at the base during
the prescribed period. For more information about the VA Camp LeJeune
program, including eligibility and how to apply, visit
http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune/ or call 1-877-222-8387.