When an individual is exposed to more than 3,000 times the safe exposure limit for chemicals, you can expect bad results. The longer that exposure continues, the worse you can expect those results to be. When the exposure continues over the course of weeks, months or years, you can expect catastrophic results. This is the type of exposure that Camp Lejeune veterans were exposed to.
From the 1950s through the 1980s the water supply at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina was contaminated with more than 70 chemicals. The most prevalent of these chemicals, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), were benzene (a component of gasoline), trichloroethylene (TCE, a degreaser and paint stripper), and perchloroethylene (PCE, a dry-cleaning agent). This contaminated water was used for everything from drinking, to bathing for individuals stationed or working at Camp Lejeune.
The contaminated water at Camp Lejeune has led to a number of health problems for those who were stationed there during the course of the contamination. These health problems range female infertility and miscarriages to a number of cancers. I have previously written on one of these, scleroderma, which causes the hardening of an individual’s skin, and in its more advanced stages, organs.
The extent of the water contamination and the far reaching health effects eventually led to congressional action. In 2012, Congress passed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Families of Camp Lejeune Act of 2012. This act provided health care for 15 diseases that were linked to exposure for veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more during the prescribed period. More information on the Act as well as the list of 15 diseases can be found here.
More recently, the VA has announced that it is in the process of creating presumptions for conditions related to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune. Once put into effect, these presumptions will function in the same way that Agent Orange presumptions do for Vietnam Veterans. The VA currently has a list of eight diseases that are going to be considered presumptive if the veteran was at Camp Lejeune during the presumptive period, August 1st, 1953 until December 31st, 1987, for the length of time that the VA determines is necessary for the presumption to apply. (This has not yet been published.)
One of the diseases that the VA intends to make presumptive for Camp Lejeune is kidney cancer. The VA in conjunction with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has concluded that the contaminates in the drinking water found at Camp Lejeune increase an individual’s risk of developing kidney cancer.
Kidney cancer, also known as renal cancer, can be divided into two separate and common types, renal cell carcinoma (RCC) and transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). RCC accounts for approximately 80 percent of kidney cancer with TCC accounts for the majority of the remainder.
RCC, the most common kidney cancer has a number of signs and symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms are weight loss, fever, hypertension, hypercalcemia (too much calcium in your blood), night sweats and malaise. Often the problem is that there are no early symptoms making kidney cancer difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Once diagnosed, doctors will run a number of tests to determine whether the cancer has spread to other areas within the body (“staging”).
While the new presumptions have not yet been put into effect, any Camp Lejeune veteran should not hesitate to file a claim for kidney cancer to reserve the earliest possible effective date for their rating when the presumptions are put into effect. The VA has stated that the benefits will be awarded “no earlier than the date the final rule is published,” but it is important to note that effective dates of awards are something that can be argued with competent representation.
For those veterans currently suffering from kidney cancer that do not want to wait for the VA to publish their presumptions, it is important to remember that you can still submit a claim for service connection without the presumption. The best way of going about this is to get an independent medical opinion linking your cancer to the toxins in the water at Camp Lejeune. If your doctor (or expert) can write a report for you, it is important that he gives his reasoning for why the renal cancer is “as likely as not” (50/50 probability) related to your exposure to the toxins you were exposed to during your tenure at Camp Lejeune.
For Camp Lejeune veterans who will finally be eligible for a presumption of service connection, it is important to know the different benefits available to you so as to not leave anything on the table. By applying for service connection prior to the presumption being published, you are, in effect, setting yourself up to receive the most possible benefit from the coming change in the law.
As always, thank you for reading, and thank you for your service.