WASHINGTON, DC (WFLA) – The U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee took aim today at the VA’s slow response to health claims filed by former Camp Lejeune Marines and their families who have suffered greatly from drinking and bathing in toxic tap water at the base from the mid 1950’s until 1985. http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/exposures09292015
“This 34 year event has been called the worst incident of environmental exposure in our nation’s history,” testified North Carolina Senator Richard Burr. “I remain appalled at how the US Government has treated these service members and their families.”
Lake Wales resident Tracey Byrd, age 40, was born at Camp Lejeune. Her twin brother was stillborn, and she’s suffered a lifetime of sickness including a life-threatening battle with breast cancer last year.
“It’s not fair,” Byrd told Eight on Your Side. “They did this to so many people. Dying didn’t scare me, what scared me most is my kids not having a mother.”
Byrd is one of the 20,000 Floridians on a VA registry of former Camp Lejeune residents potentially impacted by the cancer-causing chemicals that once permeated the Base’s tap water.
“Our government rewarded the sacrifices of these patriotic men and women by negligently poisoning them and their families and by engaging in a decades long cover-up,” said Burr.
At the Senate hearing Tuesday, VA administrators came under fire for changing the rules for former Marines and their family members who are trying to make health claims under a federal law passed in 2012 in response to the toxic water debacle.
Jerry Ensminger, a former Marine Sergeant stationed at Camp Lejeune lost his nine year old daughter to leukemia 30 years ago and has become a relentless advocate on behalf of former base residents. He testified that the VA keeps changing rules for filing claims for healthcare related to the toxic water.
“Agents within the VA system have expended more effort, time and money devising methods to deny Camp Lejeune victims their rightful benefits rather than providing them,” Ensminger testified. “They shouldn’t need to wait any longer for the help they deserve.”
VA administrators insist they are working diligently to process claims and to come up with policies that will enable victims with an expanding number of “presumptive” illnesses to receive financial help with their healthcare claims.
“The diseases that are currently being reviewed for potential presumptive service connection including kidney cancer, angiosarcoma of the liver, and acute myelogenous leukemia, which are known to be related to long-term exposure to the chemicals that were in the water at Lejeune from the 1950’s through 1987,” testified David McLenachen, the VA’s Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Disability Assistance.
McLenachen also testified the VA already provides healthcare for 15 other conditions, under a federal law passed in 2012. http://benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-postservice-exposures-camp_lejeune_water.asp
One of those conditions is the breast cancer suffered by Tracey Byrd. She almost lost her home due to overwhelming medical bills and only learned by chance last year that her cancer was related to toxic chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune. She filed a claim but waited months for the VA to finally start making good on its promise to pay.
“I thought OK this pretty much explains my wife,” Byrd said. “Because before, I just thought I’m just really sick.”