Marines affected by toxic water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina over the past 35 years are now able to apply for Veterans Disability benefits. A new federal rule allows Veterans suffering from one of eight diseases VA officials have said are connected to adult exposure to the water contamination to apply for disability. The diseases include leukemia, aplastic anemia (and other myelodysplastic syndromes), bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Parkinson’s disease.
“It has been estimated this will affect about 900,000 Veterans and may cost more than $2 billion over the next five years,” said Jeffrey Freedman, managing attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys at Law, PLLC. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the service members who were affected by the contaminants in the water. Their families were also exposed.”
The water contamination came from leaky fuel tanks and other chemical sources during the 1950s up to the 1980s. Troops and family members who lived at the base and developed one of 15 illnesses determined to be caused by the contamination have been provided with free medical care since 2012, however the Veterans did not qualify for disability benefits until now.
“It took years of lawsuits and lobbying for these eight diseases to be considered ‘presumptive conditions,’ which means Veterans suffering from one of these illnesses only has to prove they have the disease, not that the condition is linked to a specific event or exposure,” Freedman said. “With other conditions, typically the Vet has to prove his or her disability is service-related resulting from a particular event.”
Service members who spent at least 30 cumulative days at the base, whether that service was on active-duty, reserve or National Guard status, and who have developed one of the qualifying diseases have a year to file for benefits.
“We urge Veterans who lived at Camp Lejeune and who are ill to file for these benefits,” Freedman said. “It can be difficult to file a claim and be awarded the correct rating for a disability, so even though this is a specific rule from the Federal government, we recommend Veterans retain a competent and knowledgeable attorney to assist them. Veterans we have worked with have found it well worthwhile to have someone with the right expertise fighting for their cause.”