ZEPHYRHILLS, FL (WFLA) – Camp Lejeune, North Carolina is where men and women become U.S. Marines. It is also where from 1953 to 1987 nearly one million marines, their families and civilian employees were exposed to contaminated water.
Officials promised to notify those who might be affected. Joe Zambito, 70, of Zephyrhills never heard from them. Joe joined the Marines at the age of 18 in 1964. Since then he’s lost both kidneys and his bladder to cancer.
“They said you don’t have to worry about anything when you join the service,” Joe said.
That hasn’t exactly been the case. He learned about the water contamination from the news. When he approached the V.A. about service related disability benefits, Joe claims the V.A. asked him for his doctors’ information, then never contacted them. It rejected his claim for kidney cancer because his kidneys had already been removed. He is extremely frustrated.
“They don’t tell us anything, we call to get information, they give us the runaround,” he said.
In 2012 the V.A. handed cases like Joe’s to an anonymous group of clinicians called “Subject Matter Experts”. There are concerns about how qualified these experts are to approve or deny claims like Joe’s. Several veterans groups including The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten and the Vietnam Veterans of America are now requesting records from the V.A. under the Freedom of Information Act.
They want to know who these experts are, their qualifications, and on what do they base their decisions. During a teleconference today, democratic senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut insisted veterans are owed full disclosure.
“This case is classic for citizens’ need to know. The V.A. ought to come clean,” Senator Blumenthal stated.
Joe’s wife Judy feels the Marines will never take full responsibility because this contamination affects so many.
“They’re hoping that they die from their cancers and they’ll never have to pay them any benefits,” Judy said.