Tampa Bay area veterans may have to wait a year for Camp Lejeune toxic water benefits

Cancer victims raise their hands at a community meeting about Camp Lejeune water problems.

Marines who served at Camp Lejeune between 1953-1987 and now suffer from various forms of cancer will have to wait as long as a year before the VA completes its rulemaking process, which will give them access to benefits.

That’s a big disappointment for many considering the VA’s announcement last week that it was awarding “presumptive” benefits to people who lived at the base, drank water laced with toxic chemicals, and later came down with eight maladies ranging from kidney cancer to Parkinson’s disease.

“There’s just no excuse for it,” said former Marine dependent and base resident Mike Partain. “It’s gone on too long.”

Congressman David Jolly said survivors deserve relief.
Congressman David Jolly said survivors deserve relief.

Partain ended up with male breast cancer eight years ago — a condition that is not covered under the newly-announced “presumptive” VA benefits. As a former dependent, Partain wouldn’t be covered even if male breast cancer was on the VA list because it only applies to former Marines.

Partain says a number of veterans he knows who fall under the presumptive list of maladies can’t hold out much longer due to life-threatening conditions they’ve suffered from for years. “There are veterans who need this now,” Partain said.

Partain is also troubled that bladder cancer did not make the VA list of presumptive conditions since nearly 900 former base residents have that disease and, in his view, there is a scientific link to the toxic solvents that permeated the base drinking water.

Congressman David Jolly (R-Pinellas) agrees that survivors of the toxic water scandal at Camp Lejeune deserve relief. “The Lejeune issue has gone on far too long,” Jolly said. But he also expressed little optimism that the VA will speed up its rulemaking process. “Welcome to the frustrations of bureaucracy,” Jolly said. “That is the challenge we face in a large bureaucracy like the VA.”

Partain has had battles with the VA for eight years on behalf of Camp Lejeune survivors. He insists his campaign is far from over. “There’s a lot of work to do. We still have to address the families and the dependents who were on the base,” Partain said. “It’s not over by any stretch of the imagination.”

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