Camp Lejeune Water Contamination & VA Disability Benefits
Christian: Good afternoon and welcome to another edition of Facebook live from Chisholm Chisholm and Kilpatrick. I’m Christian McTarnaghan. Today I’m joined by Christine Clemens and Michelle DeTore. And we’re going to talk about a Camp Lejeune cases. So before we get into the law and all the conditions that are associated with what happened in Camp Lejeune, Lejeune, excuse me, it’s not the first time or the only time I’m going to do that. [laughing] Do you want to just go through a little bit of the history of what happened at that particular in that particular area? Where we get started.
Christine: Sure. So Camp Lejeune is a military base. It’s an installation and there were, service members and, family members who were there. And about 1,000,000 military personnel and family members were stationed there of this Marine Corps base or Marine Air Corps Station New River between 1953 and 1987 when exposures to hazardous chemicals were found to have taken place there. So basically, what this means is that anyone who was working and living on the base who was drinking water, who was bathing, washing dishes, swimming, et cetera with water contaminated there. And there were three treatment facilities that they found that were contaminated, were exposed. And, what they found, I mentioned chemicals, they found Volatile Organic Compounds commonly referred to as VOCs, such as dry-cleaning solvent degreasers and almost 70 other hazardous chemicals. There is a lot of bad stuff there. So, the treatment facilities were contaminated by basically there was a nearby dry-cleaning company and that’s how you get those dry cleaning solvents. And there were also leaking underground storage tanks–
Christian: That contaminated the groundwater. I’m assuming.
Christine: Exactly. That was pretty extensive throughout the base. There were industrial areas spills and waste disposal sites. So there were PCEs, which is, I might go through this a little bit, Perchloroethylene. There were TCEs which is Trichloroethylene, Benzene. There was Trans-1,2 DCE and these are byproducts of the degrading chemicals of the TCE, PCE, and Benzene. And there was Vinyl Chloride. Those are the main things that we see those chemicals that were particularly hazardous that had been found to be linked to a number of conditions. And I think what we’re gonna do is we’ll talk a little bit more about what those conditions are. And certainly, this is only the tip of the iceberg. This is what we know now. This is what the research shows us now. There’s certainly, I believe more on the horizon. So, according to the agency for toxic substances and disease registry, for most of the months within that period which is a 34-year period, on-base water wells contain limits above the EPAs guidelines for all of those chemicals. And the thing that I think we’ve all talked about offline finding pretty interesting is that the Wells that they had on base. They first discovered contamination in these Wells in 1982. Three years later, in 1985, those Wells were finally shut down. So in 2012, Congress passed the Honoring Faith America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act. And that granted some benefits to families who had been exposed. And then in 2017, they passed an additional statute that allowed for benefits for veterans, similar to their service-connected disability benefits. Which like you’re going to talk more about the disability benefits. And Michelle, I’m gonna turn it over to you to talk a little bit more about the medical conditions and the medical benefits.
Michelle: Yeah, sure. So as Christine mentioned in 2012, VA passed the Honoring American Veterans and Caring for Campus Youth and Families Act. So what this essentially did was provided healthcare benefits to veterans who served on active duty and Camp Lejeune as well as family members who are also might be eligible for healthcare cost benefits that were also there were veteran was on active duty.
Christian: It’s a little different than how a lot of other sorts of contaminants are or other ways that veterans families might have been exposed to these things that they dealt with it. So it’s a pretty unique situation actually.
Michelle: Yeah, I think it’s very unique to see them first come out with healthcare benefits. And then later decide to come out with presumptive service connection benefits. Especially, you don’t often see family members also were considered right away too. I don’t think that’s very common either. So for family members, we’re going to talk about veterans a little bit late in a minute. But for family members, there are a few things that they require. So first you had to be, have a veteran that was on active duty for 30 cumulative days at Camp Lejeune between a period of time that Christine just talked about. So we’re talking 1953 to 1987 then you also needed to be a dependent of the veteran at the time. So a spouse, a child, you also needed to be residing at Camp Lejeune as well for 30 cumulative days. And you also need to have what the VA calls a qualifying medical condition. So when they first came out, they gave 15 conditions. And I apologize, I’m gonna read them off a little bit. So you have Bladder Cancer, Breast Cancer. You have Esophageal Cancer, Female Infertility. He had a Steatosis Kidney Cancer, Leukemia, Lung Cancer, Miscarriages, Multiple Myeloma, Mild Dysplastic Syndromes, Neuro Behavioral Effects, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Renal Toxicity, and Scleroderma. So this is what they came out originally with. And they provided healthcare benefits. And they’ll provide them to the veteran and a family member that does have one of these conditions. So I think it’s good to know that if you’re not a veteran, you’re not entitled to VA compensation benefits. It’s really just healthcare benefits. And this was something I actually didn’t know is that it’s different depending on the years of Camp Lejeune service. I didn’t know there was going to be a difference. So I’ll start with a longer period. So if it’s from 57 to 87, then the effective date for when you’re entitled to healthcare costs reimbursement. So out of pocket expenses, you’re paying for healthcare is actually August 2012. But if you’re talking service from 53 to 56, it actually is from December 2014. So something I also thought was interesting. And I think people to be aware of is that they’ll pay out of pocket expenses for obviously the date of claim but also up to two years prior to your date of claim. So I think when you’re talking about, now you’re getting ready to file what do you need?
Christian: Sure, sure. Absolutely.
Michelle: So one of the things I think is important, is to have the medical documentation. So like your medical expenses, what you had, you also want to show that you have medical conditions. They do require that you have, that you talk about with the onset date. I think that maybe to show that it will didn’t predate the time that you were there. But there’s also evidence that you want to show when submitting your application. So you want to show that you were married to the married or dependent of the veteran. So Birth Certificates, Marriage, Marriage Certificates that you were there. So you can use the active duty records. As well as the veteran to show that they were there during that period. You can also show any. Maybe Electric Bills or anything that shows at that point in time. Utility bills that you were there. And then, the other thing they require is a form. So when you’re actually doing your application, there’s a form you fill out. It’s called, a 10-106 8B. It’s like–
Christian: VA wants forms.
Michelle: Yeah. They love forms and it’s very important to know the number. This is actually a unique form because when you go onto VA’s website, usually they’re all quickly located there. It actually redirects you outside of VA’s exact website into another one where you can complete it online. They give you the option of completing it online. And they give you the option of mailing it or faxing it. I was surprised that you don’t actually fax it to the evidence intake center. You actually fax it or send it to a different address which is located on the forms. So that’s something to be very mindful of when you are submitting it that your husband or your father or you know, whoever it might’ve been that was the veteran might be submitting their claim and their benefits to be a regional offices in the evidence intake center. But you’re not going to be sending it there. You’re actually going to be sending it to a different place. It’s a financial services centered in Austin, Texas. But it is located on the form with their address, phone number, and fax number. So the form just so again is a hundred as a 10-106 8B. It’s a Camp Lejeune, you and family members, program treating physician report. So and then you also have the application that goes with that. So that’s just something to be mindful of when you’re looking up for the application.
Christian: Sure. Yeah. Absolutely. And so that’s sort of, that’s how you would apply if you were a family member or a dependent and met the method, the qualifications. And maybe the form is sort of separate because it’s not technically like a veterans benefits part of it. So we’re going to turn to that now though. So the rules for, service members are going to be a little bit different. The way that the law works is going to be a little bit different. So when you’re talking about Camp Lejeune, I think what’s most important is understand that there are some presumptive conditions that veterans can apply for benefits for. So before I go into exactly what those conditions are and I’ll list them, I have an easier task than Michelle just because on the pronunciation front. But a presumption means that you don’t have to provide company evidence. Usually, medical evidence that you are in service incident, the exposure, in this case, is medically related to the condition that you have. It’s just presumed. And that’s why they call it a presumption. So you don’t have to meet that extra hurdle. We have information, on our website about and we’re gonna get into direct service connection in general. But that’s just good to know that it’s a little bit easier. VA has made it a little bit easier for veterans that were at Camp Lejeune. And have certain disabilities to get service connection and compensation for those disabilities. So what’s the specific Camp Lejeune presumptive policy? So, you have to have lived or worked at Camp Lejeune or New River for at least 30 cumulative days between the all-important 1953 and 1987. And you have to not be dishonorably discharged because that would be a bar too. And that’s a pretty complicated topic actually. But just for the cliff notes, that would be a bar to VA benefits. So what are the presumptive conditions? And I’m just gonna read from the list cause I don’t have this memorized. There is Adult Leukemia, there’s a Plastic Anemia, Bladder Cancer, Kidney Cancer, Liver Cancer, Multiple Myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and Parkinson’s Disease. So you might have realized that some of the conditions for health benefits purposes for family members and some of the presumptive conditions are exactly the same. The lists aren’t both exactly the same. But there are some. There is some overlap between the two. So, whereas family members can only get healthcare benefits. Veterans can get both the healthcare benefits as well as VA disability compensation for those presumptive conditions. So we’re not going to get into the level of compensation you can get cause all of these disabilities would be rated a bit differently. But just bear in mind as a veteran, you can get both the healthcare and actually monthly payments based on the severity of your condition. And just notably, and importantly, Christine, you noted that there is an effective date, right? Provision of was it March 2017.
Christine: 2017 yes.
Christian: So if you filed and we’re gonna get into this. But if you filed a claim before March 2017, you can still get a service connection for these conditions. But it wouldn’t be on a presumptive basis, right?
Christian: That’s the effect of the effective date. You would have to show the more traditional elements of direct service connection, which was in service and currents which would be the exposure to the water, the currently diagnosed disability, well the disability most easily currently diagnosed. And then an actual nexus or connection between the two, which is usually medical evidence. So if you, if you haven’t claimed prior to March 2017, you’re going to have to show the traditional elements of service connection. But however, after that date, the presumption can apply. So that’s just sort of important to know. And as in most cases, the evidence that’s gonna help you most and this is sort of related to what you were talking about, Michelle, evidence that you were there for the required amount of time. That can be through your service records, evidence that you were at the base, they’d be similar, you find, go to your service records for that. And then, of course, the medical evidence of your current disability would help to sort of move the case along. And so for filing a claim for these conditions, I don’t think, from my understanding there’s no specific claim form for camp Lejeune only cases as there is for the healthcare. Is that, is that–
Christine: No, there’s just the form that you use to file a claim generally for benefits from the veterans’ benefits administration.
Christian: And that could also be found on a VA’s website.
Christine: Yes. And you won’t be redirected for that one.
Christian: Exactly, you can’t do that just online. You’d have to send it to the evidence intake center, like you would with all other claims. So–
Christine: You can do it online. If you do it through e-benefits [crosstalk] e-benefits account, you could do it, but you can’t just send it through VA’s website just on their site and upload to them.
Christian: It is interesting how similar exposures, completely different processes.
Michelle: Not to get confusing.
Christian: Yeah, exactly. Very, very straightforward. And so the evidence that you would use for direct service connection just quickly would be similar except there would be that additional requirement that you want to keep in mind that you need some sort of medical evidence showing that your exposure is what caused your condition prior to 2017 and the evidence that you’d show otherwise would be very similar if not exactly the same.
Christine: And some of the evidence. So you know, these conditions both, for medical benefits and for disability benefits. There was a lot of research that went into this, you know, I had mentioned that agency for toxic substances and disease registry, I always call it a stir, but I don’t know that that’s how you would say that. [crosstalk] But, there’s a lot of really good information that they, you know, they did community meetings, they had a lot of scientific research that went into, figuring out what conditions were, were being caused or were in some way linked to these exposures. That evidence that formed the basis, of the law change can also be submitted, related to a claim for direct service connection. In other words, if you’re trying to get an effective date before that March 15, 2017, date when, when the law went into effect, you can use that as medical evidence of a nexus or of a link between exposure and development of these conditions. And that would be enough to say to the VA, hey, I think this is related to this. It’s the same evidence upon which the law now says that it’s related. And that would be enough to trigger the VA’s duty to assist in, helping the veteran or the claimant [crosstalk]. Correct. It should be sufficient.
Christian: Because the toxic chemicals didn’t start causing Parkinson’s disease on March, whatever day 2017. Right? There’s, there’s a, there’s a biological chemical medical link between the exposures and the condition. So that’s really, that’s really great advice.
Christine: So the other thing is, that we had talked about the 30 days cumulative and I just wanted to clarify that. you know, a lot of times, Marines were coming in and out of Camp Lejeune, they might’ve been there for a couple of weeks, they might’ve been there for a couple of days at a time. Now it’s cumulative. So all of that time together in order, not consecutive, all that time together gets added for the purposes of triggering both of these, laws that we talked about. The other thing to note is that while the presumption for the presumption to apply, you have to have been there for 30 days. If you’re trying to get direct service connection, so service connection for a period before the presumption takes place or if you don’t meet the criteria within the presumption, maybe you were only there for 29 days, you could still try to establish that that is sufficient, that exposure for 29 days was sufficient to have, caused the conditions that you now have.
Christian: The real district requirements that I went over for the presumption or just for that easing of proving that your exposure caused those particular disabilities. Absolutely. That’s a really great point. And something we wanted to note is that these rules can apply right to guardsmen and reservists, but that can be complicated, so if you were in the guard, you were a reservist, you’re at camp Lejeune you know, we would definitely suggest that you reach out to an advocate that might be able to help you make that case cause the, the rules are going to be really the rules about the you know, how you would go about direct service connection and everything would be similar but the, but some of the rules are a little bit more complicated and it would probably be wise to get some help.
Christian: So, so all that being said, you had, great advice about using for direct service connection purposes, all the information that VA developed when they were coming up with the laws about whether, you know, certain conditions are caused by exposure. Michelle, is there anything that particularly stuck out to you that we might want to let, let people know about the Camp Lejeune issue we’re talking about today?
Michelle: I think it’s really important to know we’re listing off a bunch of conditions that VA has conceded. It doesn’t mean that your condition isn’t going to be something that views award. It’s just, you don’t have that presumption, so you will have to get that medical nexus or medical opinion linking your condition to your exposure. But just because VA hasn’t yet acknowledged it as presumed to have been caused by the exposure doesn’t mean it, it isn’t. So that’s just something to be very mindful of, but again, you will need that medical opinion.
Christian: And that the, it might change. I don’t think, I haven’t particularly, I don’t know of anything like on the, on the horizon that would change the presumptive conditions. But I mean looking at Agent Orange the presumptive conditions that have been, you know, added to the books over all the years since Vietnam have increased. So this is a very new area of, of the law of VA law, the presumption is very new. So that certainly doesn’t mean it’s gonna be static.
Christine: Right. And you know, again, this is such a huge period of time. You know, when we’re talking about agent orange exposure, we’re talking about like, you know, 12 year period approximately, right? Or even less, and we’re talking about this, we’re talking about a 34 year period. So I think, you know, it’s really important to note that scientists are always going to be researching and they’re still researching to figure out if there are any additional conditions that they could add. And so I, I, as I said at the beginning, I think this is only the tip of the iceberg. I think the other thing that I wanted to know regarding dependents is, and Michelle talked about this for the medical benefits, the dependents who would be eligible for that had to have been there. They actually had to have been there and they had to have been dependents at the time that they were there. Whereas for, for benefits for, for the disability benefits, if a veteran is filing a claim, they can file for their current dependence, whereas the medical condition, their current dependence or dependence that they had after they were there, even if they have medical conditions, don’t qualify under that medical, the laws pertaining to medical coverage. The other thing I wanted to note is that if someone is a survivor, surviving spouse or a surviving dependent child of a veteran, that they would similarly be entitled to benefits as they would for compensation benefits. For survivor’s benefits based on these conditions under the presumption and they could also file again with that, that direct theory.
Christian: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think that those are some great closing thoughts. So if you all don’t have anything else?
Christian: So I think we’ll wrap it there. Thank you very much for tuning into another edition of CCK’s Facebook live.
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