Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Military Families Poisoned at Camp Lejeune
A retired U.S. Marine drill sergeant has started a petition asking the Department of Veterans Affairs and Congress to provide medical care to the Camp Lejeune veterans poisoned by cancer-causing chemicals from 1957 to 1987.
Sgt. Jerry Ensminger started a petition on Change.org asking Congress and the VA to provide necessary medical care to the 200,000 people who lived on Camp Lejeune during the thirty-year period in which the water was contaminated with cancer-causing human carcinogens. The petition currently has over 76,000 signatures.
“We've made progress over the years,” said Ensminger in a press release, “but the measures we need now are being held up by politics. I hear from people who are suffering from the water every day. We need action, and we can't wait any longer.”
Ensminger lost his daughter, Janey, from childhood leukemia when she nine years old. He suspects the Camp Lejeune contaminated water is to blame.
Ensminger isn't the only one.
William Price, a former Marine who spent six years stationed on Camp Lejeune in the 1970s, filed a class action suit against the VA in December 2010. He currently suffers from liver and kidney disease.
Price told the Daily News his liver is half dead because it’s full of metal, and doctors have told him the chemicals he was exposed to on Lejeune could be to blame.
“I know I was contaminated,” Price said via telephone from his Las Vegas home. “I’m getting the run around from the VA because nobody wants to get involved.”
Price is still waiting for the VA to take his case. He said the VA claims they are still gathering information.
VA Representative Randal Noller said he wasn't allowed to comment on individual cases, but he did send the Daily News a “Camp Lejeune Fact Sheet” that said “veterans who believe that they have particular disabilities as a result of their service can file a compensation claim.”
As of May 4, the VA completed 1,052 claims, 794 of which were denied, and currently has 1,266 claims pending completion, according to the fact sheet.
The sheet also added the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has been studying the health effects of previous residents of Camp Lejeune since 1991. The ATSDR is currently conducting water-modeling and research studies on health outcomes and the VA is closely the monitoring the studies.
Results from the various studies are expected to be available sometime between late 2012 and 2014, according to the fact sheet.
“Last month, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said providing healthcare to Camp Lejeune veterans is 'premature'”, said Ensminger via a press release. “Premature? We've been waiting for this for years.”
In a letter to the president on April 20, members of the Veterans’ Affairs Committees in the Senate and House also asked for assistance in expediting the health care for veterans and family members exposed to the contaminated water.
The letter, signed by Sens. Patty Murray and Richard Burr, as well as Congressmen Jeff Miller and Bob Filner, called the Lejeune water contamination “possibly the worst example of water contamination in our nation’s history.”
“In your Administration’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request, it was revealed that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) overestimated health care resource requirements,” said the committee to the president via the letter. “We ask that a portion of those funds, or other funds you can identify which can be repurposed, be reserved to provide care for sick Camp Lejeune veterans and family members.”
The letter also noted VA Secretary Shinseki's statement that policy decisions could not be made until more scientific evidence is gathered that can link Camp Lejeune veteran’s illnesses to the water contamination.
The committee, especially Burr, disagrees.
“There is sufficient evidence to associate the water contamination at Camp Lejeune to illness,” Burr said May 17 via his Facebook page. “It is time for the Department of Defense (DoD) to adequately address this issue and care for those who are suffering as a result.”
In a report released May 2, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) called on the DoD to update their procedures to enable them to better address potential health risks from past toxic exposures. The GAO recommended the DoD create a policy that specifically outlines when it is appropriate to request new health assessments.
“As was the case with the exposure at Camp Lejeune, installations often may not become aware of past exposures until long after the initial health assessment took place,” said Burr on his Facebook page. “The DoD must have clear guidance as to when they should request an additional health assessment.”
According to Burr, the DoD has publicly dismissed the GAO’s advice.
“Whether they are willing to admit it or not, DoD has a responsibility to care for the victims of water contamination at Camp Lejeune,” said Burr via the page.
“We will continue our efforts to advance legislation,” said the committee in their letter to the president. “But we can expedite health care services to sick veterans if we coordinated our efforts. Only by working together, on a bipartisan basis, can we have the biggest impact on the lives of those who have already waited long enough.”
Water from the Tarawa Terrace Treatment Plant, as well as other base water treatment centers, was contaminated by specific volatile organic compounds from November 1957 to February 1987, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s most recent redacted report.
As a result, the Marine Corps began a mass media outreach in 1999 to notify thousands of military families of their potential exposure to these chemicals while stationed on Camp Lejeune during the periods of known water contamination, according the Marine Corps Headquarters website.