April 6, 2017, Trial News

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Veterans exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune entitled to disability benefits

Kate Halloran

photo of army fatigues and boots

U.S. servicemembers exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune may now file for disability benefits under a new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs rule. The rule covers seven types of cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and it applies to veterans who served at the North Carolina base or the nearby Marine Corps Air Station New River between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. The VA estimates that more than $2 billion in benefits will be provided to thousands of servicemembers.
 

U.S. servicemembers exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune may now file for disability benefits under a new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs rule. The rule covers seven types of cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and it applies to veterans who served at the North Carolina base or the nearby Marine Corps Air Station New River between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. The rule creates a “presumption of service connection,” meaning that veterans need to offer only evidence of their medical condition and service at the base to qualify. The VA estimates that more than $2 billion in benefits will be provided to thousands of servicemembers.

In the early 1980s, contaminated drinking water was discovered on the base. Tests revealed levels in the drinking water supply above federal standards for several volatile organic compounds, including perchloroethylene (PCE) and tetrachloroethylene (TCE)—industrial solvents primarily used in dry cleaning—as well as benzene and vinyl chloride. Maximum levels for PCE and TCE in drinking water are five parts per billion (ppb). The measured levels at Camp Lejeune in 1982 were as high as 100 ppb and 1400 ppb, respectively. The contamination came from on-base activities and a nearby dry cleaning business, and it affected water supplies for housing, administrative, recreational, and hospital facilities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry assessed the chemicals’ public health impact on the base and found enough evidence to support a connection between exposure and the covered diseases.

The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 provides free health care for servicemembers and family members injured by the contaminated water and covers 15 illnesses, but it did not include disability benefits. The new rule applies to disability benefits and covers eight conditions: adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Parkinson’s disease. Active duty, reserve, or National Guard servicemembers who served for at least 30 days, consecutively or not, are “presumed to have incurred or aggravated” their condition as part of their active military service, allowing them to claim VA disability benefits. Servicemembers suffering from a condition not included in the rule who believe their exposure to the contaminated water caused their condition may apply for benefits on a case-by-case basis.

In a press release about the rule, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin said, “Establishing these presumptions is a demonstration of our commitment to care for those who have served our nation and have been exposed to harm as a result of that service. The Camp Lejeune presumptions will make it easier for those veterans to receive the care and benefits they earned.”