TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Bob Miranda-Boulay says he suffers from 16 medical conditions brought about by toxic water he drank at Camp Lejeune while training as a recruit in the Marine reserves 21 years ago.
Now, after three years of waiting and medical claim denials by the VA Boulay has a glimmer of hope, thanks to an 8 on Your Side investigation that caught the attention of VA claims managers in Louisville, Kentucky. They arranged for a Skype hearing at the VA Service Center at Bay Pines Friday. “If it wasn’t for you doing the story I wouldn’t be here today,” said Boulay after the hearing.
Boulay’s attorneys say out of the blue they received a call from a VA hearing officer about a week after we reported on Boulay’s inability to get assistance from the VA. The story had been re-broadcast by other Media General TV stations and was linked on a number of websites catering to veterans.
The VA officer told one of Boulay’s attorneys he’d watched the interview. “He mentioned it to me and I kind of jokingly said ‘the other 300 clients of mine if I put them on TV I guess I’ll get a hearing for them, too,” said Richard Hurley Jr, one of two attorneys handling Boulay’s VA claims case.
Hurley says there are more than 28,000 pending claims just at the Bay Pines Service Center and it normally takes years to get the kind of hearing that Boulay had with just eight days’ notice.
Boulay suffers from kidney, liver, heart and neurological disorders that his private doctor attributes to his consumption of water at Camp Lejeune that had been contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals. The VA concedes that Boulay drank the toxic water but denies any connection to any of his 16 documented medical conditions.
“The so-called expert in this case was from a medical center in Texas who personally never examined Mr Boulay,” said his attorney David Cory.
Boulay was an amateur boxer and in top condition during the two months he served as a Marine Reserves recruit at Lejeune. Now, at age 52 he has trouble getting out of bed some days, needs a table full of medications to make it through the day and activates a pacemaker at night to keep his heart from stopping in his sleep.
“It’s tough,” said Boulay’s wife Janice. “He forgets a lot there are so many issues but I love my husband I promised him I would be by his side and I’ll be here for him. Some days I’m ready to run but I stand by my man.
The VA concedes that thousands of Marines and their dependents were exposed to toxic chemicals in the Lejeune water supply between 1953-1987. An increasing number of those former Marines are now receiving benefits under the Camp Lejeune Family Act of 2012, but Boulay doesn’t qualify because he was a reservist who was never called up for active duty.
“Since I was a reservist I was treated like a second class citizen no doubt about it,” Boulay said. “The VA is working on new rule stht would include reservists but they’re not ready yet. The Marine Corps estimates between 800-900 reservists trained at Lejeune in 1985, the year Boulay was there. Thousands more cycled through the base during the 34 year exposure period.
Friday, Boulay’s two lawyers expressed hope that the VA hearing officer would at least grant Boulay compensation for the PTSD that he has suffered ever since finding out the Marine Corps poisoned him. The Corps never notified him of the exposure. Boulay found out by chance while applying for Social Security disability benefits. “It was a cover-up from day one and now the cats out of the bag and people are seeing what’s happening,” Boulay said.
After Boulay exited Friday’s Skype hearing at the Bay Pines Service Center with his two attorneys and wife he was hopeful about catching a break after three years of fruitless effort and rejection.
“I feel like a little bit of justice today we’re going to see what the decision is,” said Boulay. “It means my wife and children will have a life they deserve—really, since I’ve been sick I haven’t been there like I should have been.” “He’s unable to work he needs compensation just to support his family that’s what it’s about,” said Cory.
While Boulay’s attorneys both credit 8 On Your Side for prompting the VA to arrange his hearing, they also point out the VA backlog problems are far from over. “We have other clients, hundreds of clients, that are waiting years for this regional office to grant a hearing,” said Cory.
Boulay looks back on his service in the Marine Reserves with mixed feelings. “Semper fi, do or die, always faithful and we were faithful,” Boulay said. “The motto needs to change or they need to honor the motto and be faithful again to us.”
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