The United States Government has agreed to pay over $2 billion in disability benefits to veterans who were exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Outgoing VA Secretary Bob McDonald has reported that there was “sufficient scientific and medical evidence” to link eight medical conditions (adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease) with contaminated water exposure in regards to disability compensation.
From March onward, the VA may begin cash payouts to supplement health care already being provided to eligible veterans who spent 20 days or more at the base between August 1953 and New Year’s Eve of 1987. Veterans affected will have to submit evidence of service and diagnosis.
The payouts are estimated to cost around $2.2 billion to the US taxpayer over the next half-decade, with the VA estimating that around 900,000+ service members could have potentially been exposed to the contaminated water.
Documents uncovered by veterans groups suggest the USMC was slow to respond when water quality tests in the early 80s determined that groundwater at Lejeune was contaminated, namely from leaking fuel tanks and an off-base dry cleaners. However, it was not until the mid-eighties that some wells were closed due to the tainted nature of the water.
“This is good news,” said retired Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger, whose daughter Janey was born in 1976 while he was stationed at Lejeune and died from leukemia at age nine. Resolute from his loss, Ensminger leads “The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten,” a group that advocates for those seeking compensation for disabilities.
“This has been a hard, long slog,” he said. “This is not the end of the issue.”
While Ensminger’s case prompted Congress and President Obama to pass a law extending free VA medical care to affected veterans and their families, veterans were not automatically given disability or benefits for service members, families or survivors. The issue prompted a slew of lawsuits from veterans groups, who note that military personnel at the North Carolina base were all exposed to contaminated water for years.
“Expanded coverage is making progress, but we also need to know whether the government may be purposefully leaving people out,” executive director of Vietnam Veterans of America Rick Weidman told Fox News.
The VA reports that roughly 1,400 disability claims related to the base are still pending and are up for immediate review.
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