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The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) new rule regarding Camp Lejeune veterans who were exposed to contaminated water during their time at the base became effective on March 14, 2017. The rule allows affected veterans suffering from eight different diseases related to the water exposure to file for disability benefits. It works in conjunction with the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 (also called the Camp Lejeune Act), which provides health care to the same veterans dealing with fifteen illnesses related to the contaminated water.

There were two wells providing water to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Several contaminants were found in both wells in the early 1980s. The contaminants have been linked to the illnesses covered by both the new rule and the Camp Lejeune Act. The contamination is guessed to have existed from the mid-1950s through February 1985.

The substances found in the water include some of the big names in bad chemicals:

  • Vinyl chloride
  • Benzene
  • Perchloroethylene (PCE), used in dry cleaning
  • Trichloroethylene (TCE), used as a metal degreaser

The wells were finally closed in February 1985.

Overhead view of Hadnot Point at Camp Lejeune in the mid-1970s
Hadnot Point at Camp Lejeune during the mid-1970s. Photo provided by Nancy Brown / www.salem-news.com.

The differences between the Camp Lejeune Act and the new rule require a little explanation. The Camp Lejeune Act provides health care benefits or cost reimbursement for fifteen illnesses.

Those covered include the Veterans and their family members who were on active duty or lived at Camp Lejeune for thirty days or longer from August 1, 1953 to December 31, 1987. The illnesses covered are:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Renal toxicity
  • Female infertility
  • Scleroderma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Miscarriage
  • Neurobehavioral effects

The new rule establishes a “presumption of service connection” between Veterans’ service, exposure to the contaminated water and the subsequent illnesses. A presumption of service basically means that the VA “presumes that specific disabilities diagnosed in certain veterans were caused by their military service.” This is important when applying for Veterans’ benefits.

The new rule allows affected Veterans to file for disability for eight specific conditions connected to their service at Camp Lejeune. Those conditions are:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease

Note that some of the conditions that now qualify for disability under the new rule are the same as those that qualify for health care and cost reimbursement under the Camp Lejeune Act. However, seven of the conditions covered by the Act are not included in the presumption of service connection for disability under the new rule.

Dr. David J. Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs 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.”

Information on how to apply for benefits under the Camp Lejeune Act and the new rule, as well as eligibility requirements, can be found at the Camp Lejeune Healthcare website.

Sources:

VA’s rule establishes presumption of service connection for diseases associated with exposure to contaminants in water supply at Camp Lejeune
Exposure to Contaminated Drinking Water at Camp Lejeune

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