Affected veterans must provide evidence of a diagnosis and service information
The federal government will pay disability benefits totaling more than $2 billion to veterans exposed to contaminated drinking water while stationed at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune.
WRAL reports that the decision was made public with little fanfare by inserting a notice in the Federal Register, the official journal of the federal government.
Starting in March, the cash payouts—which will come from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—might supplement VA healthcare that eligible veterans are already receiving. These veterans were stationed at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days cumulative between the dates of August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987. They will have to provide evidence of a diagnosis and their service information.
Bob McDonald, the outgoing VA secretary, determined that "sufficient scientific and medical evidence" exists to establish a link between being exposed to the water and eight medical conditions for the purpose of awarding disability compensation to the veterans.
It is estimated that taxpayers will pay $2.2 billion over five years to fund these benefits. According to the VA, as many as 900,000 service members may have been exposed to the contaminated water.
"This is good news," said retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger. Ensminger's daughter Janey was born in 1976 while he was stationed at Lejeune but died at nine years old from leukemia. "This has been a hard, long slog. This is not the end of the issue."
The veterans included in this decision include active duty, Reserve and National Guard members who developed one of the following: adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, or Parkinson's disease.
Over the years, veterans' groups discovered documents suggesting that Marine leaders did not immediately take action when testing first uncovered evidence of contaminated ground water at Camp Lejeune in the early 1980s. Some wells for drinking water were closed in 1984 and 1985 after more tests confirmed that they had been contaminated by leaking fuel tanks and an off-base dry cleaner. According to the Marine Corps, the contamination was not intentional and happened at a time when there were no limits on toxins in drinking water under federal law.
In 2012, Congress passed a bill that President Obama signed into law. This law provides free VA healthcare to affected veterans and their families. However, the veterans were not automatically granted disability aid or survivors' benefits, an issue that has led to lawsuits by veterans' groups.
"Expanded coverage is making progress, but we also need to know whether the government may be purposefully leaving people out," said Rick Weidman, executive director of Vietnam Veterans of America.
Affected veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune can now apply for benefits. The VA says that there are already 1,400 disability claims linked to Lejeune pending, and these will be reviewed right away.