TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – The Veterans Administration has announced it is expanding a review of chemical exposure at the Camp LeJeune Marine Base—a problem that affects as many as 20,000 veterans now living in Florida and perhaps a million veterans and their families nationwide.
Cancer-causing chemicals poisoned the drinking water at the North Carolina base between 1953 and 1987, but the problem wasn’t discovered and widely publicized until years later. The Marine Corps and federal government has been slow to connect the pollution with health problems suffered by former Camp LeJeune residents.
Mike Partain was born at the base, briefly lived there as a dependent and eventually suffered breast cancer, a condition he attributes to the toxic chemicals his mother ingested during her pregnancy. He’s become a leading advocate for victims of that water pollution and now lives in Polk County.
Partain insists the VA decision to move toward a “presumptive” test for health claims is a breakthrough in his battle to help LeJeune veterans. “It’s like walking around the walls of Jericho for eight years and then all of a sudden the walls come down,” said Partain. “Before this they had to go through hell or high water to prove their illness was related to the water at Camp LeJeune.”
The VA announced this week it is only beginning the process of amending its rules, but the end result will potentially make a huge difference for veterans who served at Camp LeJeune between 1953-87 and have any one of 15 “presumptive” conditions. http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/8799/camp-lejeune-veterans-health-care-for-15-conditions/
Under the planned changes by the VA, Veterans with conditions such as breast, lung, kidney or bladder cancer will no longer have to have their claims reviewed by a panel of “subject matter experts’ a process that Partain says is now resulting in about a 5% approval rate for veterans.
Partain and other advocates have been fighting for years to get the government to recognize the health problems resulting from the drinking water debacle at LeJeune and help veterans.
In 2012, Partain was standing in the Oval Office when President Obama signed the Caring for Camp LeJeune Families Act and has been pushing hard since then for the kind of accountability and action just announced by the VA to streamline the claims process.
“The leadership of the Marine Corps has obfuscated the truth, hid documents and they’ve misrepresented what happened to Congress,” said Partain.
The water pollution and its terrible health effects on Marines and their families who lived at Camp LeJeune and consumed the tainted water is no longer the secret it once was. But Partain insists it’s still important to get the word out. When Partain held a forum in Tampa back in 2011, he says 350 people turned out to learn more about the problem..
Partain says in December there will be a Camp LeJeune public meeting in Tampa by ATSDR, The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Anyone with questions about that meeting can contact Partain at firstname.lastname@example.org. Veterans who think they may quaify for benefits can also reach out directly to the VA at www.ebenefits.va.gov or call 1-800-827-1000 for assistance.
“This here represents the first time that the government is really trying to do what’s right and take care of the veterans who served this country,” said Partain.