Something terrible happened to those living and working at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina between 1953 and 1987. They were exposed to unsafe water contaminants at home and work. Marines, service members, military families, and civilian employees alike used this water.
They drank it. And they had every right to believe it was safe.
Many would later receive a diagnosis of breast cancer or a handful of other conditions. Federal scientists have strongly linked many of these to contaminated drinking water.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- What went wrong with the Camp Lejeune water supply
- What the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is doing about it
- The scientific evidence that shows this event may have caused breast cancer
- Who qualifies for health benefits
- What to do if you don’t qualify for benefits
Can Contaminated Water Cause Breast Cancer?
The short answer is…Yes.
Toxic substances in drinking water can lead to a variety of health conditions.
Water treatment facilities are supposed to remove toxic chemicals from the water supply. After 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) let the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set standards.
In this case, these volatile organic compounds were found at higher-than-safe levels in the water:
- Vinyl chloride, used to make plastic pipes
- Perchloroethylene (PCE), a chlorinated solvent used in dry cleaning
- Trichloroethylene (TCE), a chlorinated solvent used as a cleaner and metal degreaser
(Today, if someone is working with TCE, they are required to wear protective gear. It’s that toxic!)
- Benzene,a petroleum-based substance found in gasoline and other fuels
(Benzene is a well-known carcinogen. You may recall that unsafe levels in spray deodorants and sunscreens led to a major recall recently.)
On the military base, people experienced exposure to multiple toxic compounds.
What diseases are associated with the Camp Lejeune water contamination? Many of those using the water developed:
- Breast cancer in women
- Male breast cancer
Medical Conditions Linked to Camp LeJeune’s toxic water
However, it doesn’t end there. According to the VA, there is enough scientific evidence to show a link to these 15 diseases:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Neurobehavioral effects
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Esophageal cancer
- Female infertility
- Hepatic steatosis
- Multiple myeloma
- Kidney cancer
- Lung cancer
- Renal toxicity
What Specific Types of Cancer Did People at Camp Lejeune Get?
Those with continual exposure have developed cancers of the kidney, prostate, and rectum. They also have gotten leukemias and Parkinson’s disease. Civilian workers who had higher cumulative exposures to the contaminants have higher rates of these diseases.
Do You Qualify for Healthcare Benefits for Camp Lejeune Water Contamination?
Are you a veteran or military family member who stayed on the base for 30 days during the relevant period? You may qualify for healthcare benefits, including reimbursement for health expenses you’ve already paid. Those who were still in the womb at the time may also qualify.
You may also qualify for disability benefits plus no-copay healthcare from the VA if you are a:
- National Guard
In this case, eight diseases can qualify you for no-copay care at the VA hospital or other medical services:
- Adult leukemia
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
If you have one of the other seven medical conditions linked to Camp Lejeune water contamination, you may qualify for a “minimum of Category 6 status for VA health care,” per the VA. However, you would not qualify for disability or additional medical care.
Applying for Health Benefits If You Were Exposed to Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune
To qualify, you’ll need to fall into one of two exposure categories.
You’re a veteran who served on active duty on the base.
You’ll need to meet ALL the following criteria to qualify for disability care, which includes added healthcare:
- Military records show you served at Camp Lejeune for a 30 days minimum during the specified period.
- Medical records show you one of the eight specified conditions.
- You were not dishonorably discharged.
Remember: If you have one of the other seven conditions, you may still qualify for healthcare but not disability coverage.
You’re a family member who lived on the base.
To get access to healthcare benefits, you need to show ALL the following qualifications:
- You are related to a veteran who served on active duty for at least 30 days at Camp Lejeune between August 1953 and December 1987. Proof includes documents such as marriage licenses, adoption papers, or birth certificates.
- You have a document showing you lived at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days during that time period. You could provide utility bills, tax forms, base housing records, or military orders.
- You have medical records showing you have or had breast cancer or another of the 15 medical conditions listed above.
As a military family member, you do not qualify for disability benefits.
Are you neither military nor a military family member? Don’t worry. We’ll share your options. But first…
Scientific Evidence Linking Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune to Breast Cancer
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list several studies providing evidence of a link between the toxic water at Camp Lejeune and breast cancer.
The Male Breast Cancer Study used the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cancer registry. The study showed “possible associations” between water contaminants and male breast cancer among those on the base. They also found that these substances may accelerate the development of breast cancer in men.
They were particularly interested in breast cancer in men because this is such a rare disease for men. The chance of developing breast cancer for men is 0.1%, compared to 13% for women, for whom it’s considered the most common cancer.
Ongoing research that looks at a larger number of people exposed is underway. However, it may be years before that data is available.
Similarly, the Cancer Incidence Study comparescancer rates in people from Camp Lejeune to a base without toxic water. This study is not yet complete.
Many other studies have shown links with other illnesses. This was compelling enough for the VA and U.S. government to act.
Epidemiological Evidence Linking Breast Cancer to Chlorinated Solvents
Women exposed to chlorinated solvents at work have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer. Unrelated studies have shown similar supporting results:
- Breast cancer risk after occupational solvent exposure
- Investigating the risk of breast cancer among women exposed to chemicals
- Occupational exposure to solvents and risk of breast cancer
A link does not prove that the water toxins caused illness, but this adds to the scientific evidence needed to make the case in federal court.
Who Is Eligible to Bring a Camp Lejeune Breast Cancer Lawsuit?
Many people live on military bases who aren’t on active duty—spouses, children, and civilian employees. However, you may not be military personnel or their family. As a result, you don’t qualify for healthcare. That doesn’t change that high residential cumulative exposures plus occupational exposure may have caused breast cancer for you. You still would not be eligible.
If this is you, know that you do have another option.
The Honoring Our PACT Act includes language from the proposed Camp Lejeune Justice Act which allows certain people to bring lawsuits for damages. Those exposed to dangerous chemicals at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, can file in federal court.
Did you live or work on the base for at least 30 days during that time? Did you later develop a disease potentially caused (or sped up) by your exposure?
You can file a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. You’ll need to show that Camp Lejeune contaminated water exposure caused your medical condition. You will have a limited time (2 years) to file after enactment, disease discovery, or denied disability claim. You will need legal representation.
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