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.