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In groundbreaking move, VA changes disability claims for Lejeune vets affected by bad water

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The VA has announced that vets who were stationed at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 will soon be eligible for disability compensation.

Nearly one-million people–including troops, family members and civilian employees who worked at Camp Lejeune during that period of time–were reportedly exposed to chemicals and other cancer-causing agents in the base’s drinking water.

Sen. Thom Tillis, (R-N.C) said, upon hearing the announcement, “The VA is finally granting some justice to veterans who were exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune… the victims of this tragedy have waited far too long to receive disability benefits.”

The VA began the process in August earlier this year with very tight guidelines with who would be considered eligible for compensation.

Now, in order to be eligible for this “presumptive status,” veterans must have one of eight specified conditions and must have served at Camp Lejeune between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. The status will apply to new disability claims. Also, vets who were previously denied on such claims may seek to be re-evaluated, officials said.

The service-connected diseases, which have been tied to contaminated water at the sprawling Marine Corps base, are: kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, scleroderma, Parkinson’s disease and aplastic anemia or other myelodysplastic syndromes.

The VHA, along with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, found that the risk of developing these illnesses is “elevated” by exposure to contaminants found in the water, including “perchloroethylene, trichlorotheylene, benzene and other volatile organic compounds.”

The N.C. base was supplied by two water treatment facilities “polluted by dry cleaning compounds, leaking underground storage tanks, industrial spills and poor disposal practices.”

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said,  “The water at Camp Lejeune was a hidden hazard, and it is only years later that we know how dangerous it was.”

Hundreds of veterans attended a meeting in Tampa earlier this month to express their frustration with the VA and to plead with officials to improve the medical claims process.

The VA must now publish regulations regarding these presumptions–after which changes will take effect.  If the proposed regulations are adopted, any compensation rewarded as a result,  “will be effective no earlier than the date the final rule is published,” a VA spokeswoman said.

Comments made earlier in September by Navy Secretary Mabus angered thousands of those affected by the bad water when he discounted a link between chronic disease and service and later offered a public apology for his poor remarks.

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