By Debbie Gregory.
Former service members exposed to contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune over a 35-year period can now apply for Veterans Disability Benefits, under a new federal rule.
For decades, complaints blamed on the water at Lejeune, including serious ailments such as cancers, infertility, neurobehavioral effects, and deaths, have plagued the base. The Marine Corps has said the contamination was unintentional, occurring when federal law didn’t limit toxins in drinking water.
The move is expected to affect as many as 900,000 veterans and cost more than $2 billion over the next five years.
In a statement, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin called the move “a demonstration of our commitment to care for those who have served our nation and have been exposed to harm as a result of that service.”
It comes after years of lawsuits and lobbying by veterans groups who said tens of thousands of troops and their families were exposed to unhealthy levels of contaminants from leaky fuel tanks and other chemical sources while serving at the North Carolina base from the early 1950s to the late 1980s.
In 2012, Congress passed a bill that was signed into law by then-President Obama extending free VA medical care to affected veterans and their families. But veterans were not automatically provided disability aid or survivor benefits.
The disability benefits may supplement VA health care already being provided to eligible veterans who were stationed at the Marine base for at least 30 cumulative days between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. Veterans will have to submit evidence of their diagnoses and service information.
The new rule covers active duty, Reserve and National Guard members who developed one of the eight diseases: leukemia; aplastic anemia (and other myelodysplastic syndromes); bladder cancer; kidney cancer; liver cancer; multiple myeloma; non-Hodgkin lymphoma; and Parkinson’s disease.
Veterans have a year to file the benefits claims, and if approved will receive payouts from their date of filing.
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