In March of this past year, I learned that I have a form of leukemia called myelodysplastic syndrome. At the same time, I also discovered that I, like many other Marine Corps veterans, became ill because of my service in Camp Lejeuene, North Carolina.
From 1953 to 1983, Marines stationed there were exposed to drinking water contaminated with chemicals known as volatile organic compounds. These chemicals, which include benzene, vinyl chloride and dichloroethylene, and seeped into the water supply from a leaking fuel depot and laundry facility.
After many years of research, the U.S. Marine Corps concluded that the contaminated water caused at least 15 types of cancer; bladder, lung and kidney cancer are among them, as well as leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome.
The contamination is linked to other non-cancerous diseases and conditions, as well, such as liver and kidney disease, lupus and various skin disorders. On Aug. 6, 2012, Congress passed a bill known as the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Familes Act, which the president then signed and made law.
The bill authorizes the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for all treatment related to the cancers cause by the water at Camp Lejeune. Qualified verterans will not be charged a co-pay for treatment or will a third party insurance company be billed.
To be eligible for care, a veteran must have served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between Jan. 1, 1957 and Dec. 31, 1987. They must also register with the Marine Corps at www.marines.mil/clwater or call 877-261-9782. I urge every eligible veteran to register. I have been dealing with the VA for more than six months and find them both professional and helpful.
In the end, all Marines know when they enlist that they may have to fight, and if need be, die on the battlefield.
Dying from just drinking water, though, is definitely wrong. All of the veterans affected by the contamination at Camp Lejeuen deserve high quality medical care. The Honoring America’s Veteran and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act makes that care possible.