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Department Of Veterans Affairs Set To Award Disability Status To Poisoned Vets From Camp Lejeune

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

Marines poisoned by contaminated water and ignored for decades have finally received some relief. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday it plans to provide presumptive disability status.

For a 30-year period between August 1953 and December 1987, Marines at Camp Lejeune have suffered from exposure to chemicals in the base water supply. A total of 82 men have developed a rare form of breast cancer as of 2012. This is just one of the consequences of prolonged exposure. Others the VA is currently reviewing include kidney cancer, angiosarcoma of the liver and acute myelogenous leukemia.

Presumptive status means that so long as veterans meet basic eligibility requirements, they’ll be given the benefit of the doubt, instead of delays and denials.

“I’m disappointed that we had to pressure the VA to do the right thing for our veterans in the first place,” said Sen. Richard Burr in a statement. “The scientific research is strong and the widespread denials of benefits will soon end. Now, these veterans and their families members will not have to fight for benefits they are due.”

A series of tests conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in the early 1980s which indicated contamination received little to no response or follow-up from military officials at the time. Due to inaction, approximately 1 million people were likely exposed to a water supply tainted by leaking fuel tanks.

Marines and their family members drank and bathed in water full of chemicals like Benzene, Vinyl Chloride, Trichloroethylene and Perchloroethylene. These organic compounds are components of fuel and are also used in industrial solvents.

The VA already lists 15 conditions for which veterans are eligible, assuming they stayed at the base in North Carolina for at least 30 days between the 30-year period. Following a government investigation in 2009, Congress forced the VA’s hand on these 15 conditions with the Janey Ensminger Act. President Barack Obama signed the legislation in 2012. Janey Ensminger was the daughter of a Marine sergeant. She died from Leukemia at the young age of nine.

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally confirmed the link between contaminated water and serious conditions like cancer.

“It’s a great feeling. It’ll be a great sigh of relief for a lot of Camp Lejeune veterans and their families,” said Jerry Ensminger, Janey’s father.

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