Members of the U.S. Armed Forces face many dangers in service to their country, and sometimes those dangers are homegrown. Such was the case for active duty, reservists and National Guard members who lived or worked at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from the early 1950s through the late 1980s – and, as a result, potentially were exposed to volatile organic compounds, industrial solvents, benzene and other chemicals discovered in two on-base water supply systems.
Now the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has established a presumption of service connection for eight diseases associated with exposure to those contaminants, significantly easing the medical care claims process for affected military veterans.
“We have a responsibility to take care of those who have served our nation and have been exposed to harm as a result of that service,” said former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald. “Establishing a presumption for service at Camp Lejeune will make it easier for those veterans to receive the care and benefits they earned.”
The presumption of service connection applies to those who served at Camp Lejeune for a minimum of 30 consecutive days between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. Diseases eligible for free care include adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease.
Presently, these conditions are the only ones for which a creation of presumptions is supported by scientific and medical evidence. In establishing the service connection, environmental health experts in the VA’s Technical Workgroup reviewed scientific evidence, including analysis and research performed by the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Environmental Protection Agency, International Agency for Research on Cancer, National Toxicology Program, and National Academies of Science.
In accordance with the 2012 Camp Lejeune law, the VA already provides free health care for veterans who served at least 30 consecutive days of active duty at the camp between Jan. 1, 1957, and Dec. 31, 1987, and have since been diagnosed with several medical conditions. Conditions that still qualify for cost-free health care under the 2012 law but do not meet the criteria to establish a presumptive service connection include esophageal cancer, breast cancer, renal toxicity, female infertility, scleroderma, lung cancer, hepatic steatosis, miscarriage and neurobehavioral effects.
Top Photo By: Lance Cpl. Ashley Lawson