A number of my articles have discussed Camp Lejeune and the potential for new presumptions based on exposure to toxic chemicals while stationed on the base. Today, I am happy to announce that these hopes have come to fruition. The VA has determined that eight medical conditions are linked to Camp Lejeune, N.C. based on exposure to toxins between August 1953 and December 1987. Veterans who were stationed at the base between these two dates will soon be eligible for disability compensation for this list of diseases.
On December 17, 2015 VA officials announced that the eight diseases that will be linked to the toxic drinking water at the base are:
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Non-Hodgkins lymphoma
- Multiple myeloma
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Aplastic anemia or other myelodyplastic syndromes
Secretary Robert McDonald stated that research by both VA health experts and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry showed that individuals exposed to the toxins in Camp Lejeune drinking water, specifically perchloroethylene, trichlorotheylene, benzene and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) had a higher risk of developing each of these illnesses. (Each of these compounds came from two contaminated treatment facilities where dry cleaning agents, leaking underground tanks and industrial spills seeped into the water.) Secretary McDonald continued, “The water at Camp Lejeune was a hidden hazard, and it is only years later that we know how dangerous it was.”
While the rule providing the presumptions have not yet been put into effect, it is important for veterans and their families to stay up to date on what is happening within the VA. With regards to the new rules, the presumptions will take effect only on new claims. Veterans who have previously been denied will need to seek re-evaluation of their claim, and veterans with claims currently pending that may be denied under the current regulations, will have their claims put on hold while the VA finalizes its new set of rules.
If you have a claim pending for a disease related to your time at Camp Lejeune and read the “presumptions will take effect only on new claims” above, DO NOT think that you need to cancel your pending claim and refile! If your claim is pending, it may help to establish an earlier effective date. As of now, a spokeswoman for the VA has stated that any awards based on the proposed regulations will “be effective no earlier than the date the final rule is published.”
The new presumptions will also expand who is eligible for compensation versus the Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. According to current information, the presumption will also be available to reserve and National Guard members who served at Camp Lejeune for any length of time during the presumptive period, August 1st, 1953 and December 31st, 1987.
While discussing these new presumptions, it is worth remembering the VA does provide healthcare or reimbursement for a number of other diseases that have not been added to this presumption list. If you or a veteran that you know was stationed at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987, healthcare is provided by the VA for the diseases listed above as well as the following:
- Lung cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Bladder Cancer
- Renal toxicity
- Hepatic steatosis
- Female infertility
- Neurobehavioral effects
While the diseases in the foregoing list above have not yet been added to the presumptive list, consider whether you should file a claim for them. Just because they are not presumed to be connected to your service at Camp Lejeune does not mean that they are not related, or that service connection cannot be proven.
In addition to proving service connection in different ways, history shows us that once a presumptive list has started it will be updated. When the Agent Orange Act of 1991 was passed it only had three diseases listed. The list now includes fourteen diseases. Each of these diseases was added as more proof came in to tie them to Agent Orange Exposure. In the case of Camp Lejeune, Congress has already laid a foundation for diseases that it has determined are related to the toxic water. This list was published in 2012. Now it is time for the VA to catch up, and that is just what these presumptions are starting to do.
While the new presumptions have not gone into effect yet, it is very important that you start considering whether to file a claim and what you might need to do so. It is estimated that over a million people were exposed to the toxic waters at Camp Lejeune including not only our veterans, but also their families and civilian workers. While the VA does not pay disability compensation to families for their exposure, it is important to note that the Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act does provide for reimbursement of medical expenses in certain situations if your loved one has one of the listed diseases.
To quote Senator Thom Tillis, “VA is finally granting some justice to veterans who were exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune. The victims of this tragedy have waited far too long to receive disability benefits.”
Please continue to check our blog for any updates about these presumptions. Thank you for your service.