Up to 750,000 Marine veterans and their families who were exposed to contaminated water may be given free health care provided by the government if two senators from North Carolina have their way.
Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican Sen. Richard Burr have both made moves to help the veterans, who were exposed to over 70 chemicals – including trichloroethylene (TCE), a degreaser, perchloroethylene (PCE), a dry cleaning solvent, and benzene – between the 1950s and 1980s.
The Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in Onslow County, North Carolina, was originally contaminated when solvents were dumped near wells that held water used for drinking and bathing. The government had previously tried to deny a link between the toxins in the water and various illnesses that sprung up in veterans, but the denial was withdrawn in 2009.
In early February, Sen. Hagan sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki asking him to speed up the claims process for veterans seeking disability claims related to the contaminated drinking water, and to install new training guidelines for the workers who process the claims. The VA currently uses a 2009 National Research Council study to process Camp Lejeune-related claims, even though the study has been heavily criticized for what Hagan referred to as “scientific shortcomings and inaccurate conclusions.”
The same day that Sen. Hagan sent the letter, Sen. Burr resubmitted a piece of legislation seeking to require the VA to provide health care for the veterans who drank the contaminated water, as well as their families.
Several illnesses have been anecdotally linked to the contaminated water. A woman named Laura Jones filed a suit against the government claiming that the water gave her lymphoma. Twenty men formerly based at Camp Lejeune developed breast cancer, which generally occurs very infrequently in men. Veterans who were based in the camp also suffer from an increased rate of cancer and other diseases.
No study has officially connected the contamination with illness, but the U.S. government is also no longer attempting to disprove that the two are linked. In what may be the first case where the government admitted a link between the water and illness, in early 2010 a man named Paul Buckley received a 100 percent disability from the VA for cancer that was tied to the contaminated water.