The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it will begin covering out-of-pocket health care expenses for Marine dependents who fell victim to cancer and other illnesses from toxic water at Camp Lejeune, NC.
The relief is long-overdue, as victims were promised coverage for their health care costs two years ago when Congress passed the landmark Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act. Not to mention, the toxic water problem stems all the way back to the mid-1950s.
The 2012 law provided health care for Marines and family members who had lived on the base from 1957 to 1987 and who suffered from any of 15 illnesses named in the law. These included cancer related to the lungs, bladder, breasts, kidneys and esophagus, as well leukemia and problems involving female infertility.
Some 750,000 people were exposed to polluted drinking water, which contained harmful chemicals from spills, a dump site on the base, leaking underground storage tanks on base and an off-base dry cleaner.
With the 2012 law, the VA immediately offered full care for veterans who had been stationed at Camp Lejeune, but it also established a waiting period for their dependents who suffered from covered illnesses to be reimbursed.
The most recent announcement from the VA means they will begin reimbursing family members later this year for health care costs incurred since March 26, 2013 – the date which Congress appropriated the funding.
The VA also planned to release a document about health care services to veterans who were on active duty at the base for at least 30 days in the three-decade period.
The news site McClatchy spoke with two individuals who were affected by the toxic water at Camp Lejeune. Retired Marine Jerry Ensminger’s 9 year old daughter, Janey, died of leukemia in 1985, and Mike Partain, who was born at the base, has suffered from male breast cancer.
The two led the long fight to get the 2012 law passed, and both said they were dismayed by the delay in individuals receiving this financial relief.
“As far as I’m concerned, so many people have already died. They just keep dragging this thing out,” Ensminger said.
Partain said “institutional apathy and incompetence” were the reasons it took two years to write and approve the regulations for how the law would be administered.
For now, at least, the victims of Camp Lejeune can celebrate a step in the right direction.
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