Drinking water supplies at the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina were contaminated with chemicals, including trichloroethylene (TCE), benzene, perchloroethylene (PCE), and vinyl chloride, from 1957 to 1987. TCE is a metal degreaser and PCE is used in dry cleaning. In early 1985, the wells with contaminants in them were shut down.
Many Marine veterans and their families became ill as a result of this toxic drinking water. Cancers in particular are common among vets and their spouses and children who used to live at CAmp Lejeune. Veterans and their families who have suffered due to these illnesses are entitled to compensation and health care for their illnesses.
Disability Compensation for Camp Lejeune Vets
The VA has not yet recognized presumptive service-connection for illnesses caused to Camp Lejeune veterans from exposure to this contaminated drinking water. This makes it challenging to obtain service-connected disability compensation for illnesses and medical conditions that are believed to have been caused by exposure to these toxins at the Camp.
However, the VA will consider claims from veterans based on illnesses caused by exposure to drinking water toxins at the Camp. Vets must have a medical opinion indicating that their current illness was caused by exposure to the contaminated water. Likewise, veterans must be able to show service at Camp Lejeune between August of 1953 and 1987, and must have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
The VA may provide a medical examination to a veteran for the purpose of asking for a medical opinion about whether the current illness was related to toxin exposure at the Camp. If this opinion is not favorable, it may be advisable to seek a medical opinion from a private doctor, if the veteran can afford it.
How to Apply for Disability
Veterans can apply for disability compensation online through the eBenefits system, by visiting a VA regional office, by mail (submit Application for Veterans Compensation and/or Pension) or by phoning 800-827-1000.
For more information, read our article about applying for veterans disability benefits.
If Your Disability Claim Is Denied
If the VA denies your claim for disability compensation, you have the right to file an appeal, which is called a “Notice of Disagreement” (NOD). You must file your appeal with the VA within one year of the denial. You can use the VA Form Statement in Statement in Support of Claim form to file your NOD. You can find this form at www.va.gov/vaforms/.
Because it is so hard to win these appeals, you may want to hire a VA disability attorney to help you .
Health Care for Camp Lejeune Veterans and their Families
In August of 2012, a new law was passed that provides for health care for certain veterans, as well as their family members, who served or lived at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between 1957 and 1987. This new law is called the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act.
Because the law is so new, the VA is still in the process of implementing it. Regulations about how to administer these health benefits are in process. On September 13, 2013, the VA issued proposed regulations for providing these health benefits to veterans. These proposed regulations are called Hospital Care and Medical Services for Camp Lejeune Veterans.
These proposed regulations, if adopted, will establish the following:
- Service or living at Camp Lejeune will include all base housing, any facilities service members used, such as training sited, and any area at all within the Camp.
- The thirty days of service are not required to be consecutive.
- Enrollment in the VA healthcare system will be given as Priority Group Six for Camp Lejeune veterans.
- Co-pays will not be required for treatment of any of the 15 medical conditions recognized as being related to the Camp Lejeune water supply (listed below).
- Reimbursement of prior payment of co-pays for treatment of any of these conditions is available, but only back to August 6, 2012, and only if veterans claim status as a Camp Lejeune vet by September 11, 2015.
Regulations on providing these health care benefits to family members are still under development by the VA and proposed regulations have not yet been issued.
The Fifteen Medical Conditions
Diseases and conditions for which health care benefits may be available include:
- breast cancer
- lung cancer
- multiple myeloma
- kidney cancer
- esophageal cancer
- bladder cancer
- non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- myelodysplastic syndromes (bone marrow problems)
- scleroderma (a skin disease)
- renal toxicity (kidney problems)
- hepatic steatosis (liver problems)
- infertility in women
- miscarriage, and
- neurobehavioral effects (includes poor memory, dementia, depression, poor concentration, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, fatigue, motor problems, and more).
For more information about VA health care benefits, including priority groups, read our article Veterans' Eligibility for VA Health Care.