Getting Veterans (VA) Disability for Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune
Water contamination at United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina exposed thousands of people to serious health risks for decades.
From 1953 to 1987, service members and their families living on the base were unknowingly drinking toxic water, as well as using it to cook, bathe, and wash their clothes. Veterans have since developed numerous health problems presumed to be connected to their military service at this camp.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Explained
The toxic chemicals found at Camp Lejeune are known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and make up products such as dry-cleaning solvents and degreasers. A nearby dry-cleaning company was using these solvents and eventually the VOCs contaminated the groundwater. There were also industrial spills and waste disposal sites in the surrounding area that contributed to the contamination.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, VOC in on-base water wells surpassed the Environmental Protection Agency’s set limits. The water well contamination was first discovered in 1982, but it took three more years before the wells were finally shut down.
Contaminants and Health Effects
Among the VOCs were additional classes of chemicals, such as:
- Tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene (PCE)
- Trichloroethylene (TCE)
- Vinyl chloride
- Trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (DCE)
These hazardous chemicals have been linked to a number of debilitating health conditions.
PCEs and TCEs can increase the risk of several cancers (e.g., kidney, liver, prostate, colon, and more) and Hodgkin’s disease. Benzene has been connected to forms of leukemia, and vinyl chloride has been linked to lung and liver cancers.
Medical Benefits for Veterans and Family Members Exposed to Camp Lejeune Toxic Water
In 2012, Congress passed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act. Under this legislation, veterans and their families exposed to the contaminated drinking water could automatically qualify for certain medical benefits.
The Camp Lejeune veterans and family act provides U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare benefits to veterans with qualifying conditions who served on active duty at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987. It also offers healthcare cost benefits to eligible family members who lived on the military base.
Eligible Conditions for Healthcare Benefits
The conditions eligible for healthcare benefits, such as reimbursement for out-of-pocket healthcare costs, include the following:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Female infertility
- Hepatic steatosis
- Kidney cancer
- Lung cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Neurobehavioral effects
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Renal toxicity
It is important to note that this list differs from VA’s list of presumptive conditions for disability compensation.
Effective Dates for Healthcare Benefits
The effective dates for healthcare benefits depend on when a veteran served at Camp Lejeune.
If a veteran served between 1957 and 1987, then the effective date for when they are entitled to healthcare benefits is August 2012. However, if a veteran served between 1953 and 1956, the effective date is December 2014.
Qualifying for Medical Benefits for Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
To receive reimbursement for treatment costs for one of the above conditions, veterans and family members must first complete VA Form 10-10068: Camp Lejeune Family Member Program Application. In addition, VA will require you to submit evidence proving your eligibility for the program, such as:
- A marriage license or birth certificate showing you were the dependent of a veteran stationed at the camp
- Proof that you lived at the base for at least 30 cumulative days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987 (e.g., base housing records, military orders, utility bills, or tax forms)
- VA Form 10-10068b: Camp Lejeune Family Member Program Treating Physician Report, completed by your doctor
- Medical records proving that you paid medical expenses for one of the qualifying conditions above, in line with these dates:
- Dependents who lived at Camp Lejeune between January 1, 1957 and December 31, 1987 can be reimbursed for out-of-pocket medical expenses incurred on or after August 6, 2012.
- Dependents living at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1956 can have medical expenses reimbursed for care received on or after December 16, 2014.
VA Disability Benefits for Camp Lejeune Veterans: Presumptive Service Connection
On March 14, 2017, VA updated 38 CFR § 3.307, establishing its final rule on presumptive service connection for Camp Lejeune toxic water exposure.
Veterans who served at the camp between 1953 and 1987 may be eligible for VA disability compensation based on presumptive service connection, provided they were diagnosed with one of the eight qualifying conditions.
Contaminated Water Presumptive Conditions
VA has established a list of presumptive conditions for veterans that served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 cumulative days from August 1, 1953 through December 31, 1987:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
If you served at this camp and have since developed a condition not on this list, you can still apply for VA disability compensation. However, you must provide a medical nexus opinion connecting your condition to Camp Lejeune toxic water exposure.
VA Disability Benefits for Camp Lejeune Veterans: Direct Service Connection
If you filed a claim for service connection before March 2017 or if you have a condition not currently on VA’s presumptive list, you must establish the three elements of direct service connection:
- A current diagnosis of the condition by a medical professional;
- Evidence of Camp Lejeune toxic water exposure while on active duty;
- A medical nexus opinion linking the water contamination to the current diagnosed condition.
Tips for Your VA Claim Based on Exposure
It is important to provide medical evidence as to how your non-presumptive condition is related to the Camp Lejeune water contamination. Evidence may include the following:
- Service personnel records (i.e., establishing that you served at Camp Lejeune during the specified period)
- VA medical records
- Compensation & Pension exam results
- Private medical records
- Lay statements
Importantly, there was a significant amount of research conducted regarding the camp’s toxic water and associated medical conditions. This research set the stage for the initial legislation to pass, which led to VA’s list of presumptive conditions. As such, the research can also be used as evidence in claims for direct service connection.
New Federal Action for Those Who Lived at Camp Lejeune
Are you a veteran, a family member of a veteran, a civilian, or a dependent of a deceased veteran who served at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 for at least 30 cumulative days? If so, the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act may enable you to receive compensation due to contaminated water exposure.
Signed into law on August 10, 2022, the PACT Act is a piece of legislation expands presumptions for toxic-exposed veterans, including those who have been exposed to herbicides, burn pits, and more.
This legislation creates a federal cause of action for any individual, including veterans, who resided, worked at, or was otherwise exposed to Camp Lejeune’s water for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987.
Essentially, this means that anyone who meets these criteria may bring in action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to obtain compensation for harm that was caused by the exposure. Compensation will also be subject to offsets for federal benefits the individual receives for the claimed condition, such as VA or Medicare benefits for a condition caused by Camp Lejeune exposure.
The statute of limitations for bringing an action before the Court is two years after the passage of the PACT Act, or 180 days after the claim has been denied under 28 USC § 2675, whichever is later. This means it is important to act fast to pursue potential compensation for damages related to Camp Lejeune exposure.
Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick, a national leader in Veterans’ Disability law, is working with the law firm of Levin Papantonio Rafferty, nationally recognized leaders in Mass Tort law, to help those exposed to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune receive the compensation they deserve.
Did VA Deny You Benefits on Your Camp Lejeune Claim?
If VA denied you benefits on your Camp Lejeune claim or if you are interested in pursuing a claim against the federal government as a result of the PACT Act, the team at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD may be able to help. CCK currently offers free consultations for veterans seeking assistance with their appeals.
Reach out to CCK today at 800-544-9144 to learn more.
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