When you think of a military service member being exposed to toxic materials, you may think of the burn pits used in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to dispose of waste or even the use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. However, a service member does not need to be deployed to suffer from toxic exposure. In fact, at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, as many as a million service members, civilian staff, and their families have possibly been exposed to water contamination in the drinking water supply.
Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune
Though Camp Lejeune has a notable history – from training World War II soldiers for amphibious operations to training Marines that have fought in every major US conflict and more – it also has a dark past that has only just come to light.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has been investigating the issue for years and has stated that Camp Lejeune’s drinking water was contaminated starting in the 1950s up until the last of the most dangerously contaminated wells were shut down in 1987. These wells had been contaminated with benzene that leaked from on-base storage tanks, industrial solvents from off-base dry cleaners, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Hundreds of thousands of service members and their families who lived on base between the 1950s and the 1980s have developed many serious illnesses, cancers like leukemia and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and even birth defects as a result of the water contamination.
Disability Benefits from Water Contamination
Veterans and their family members who have developed illnesses due to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water are entitled to health care benefits and compensation. While the VA has treated these water claims on a case-by-case basis for many years and would require veterans to prove their illness was service-connected in the past, that is no longer the case. In 2017, Congress mandated presumptive benefits for water contamination cases.
In order to receive disability benefits for water contamination, you must be a veteran, reservist, or guardsman and meet all of the following requirements:
- You must have served at the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River or Camp Lejeune for a minimum of 30 days between August of 1953 and December of 1987.
- You cannot have received a dishonorable discharge from the military.
Additionally, you must have been diagnosed with one or more of the following illnesses:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
How to Receive the Benefits You Are Owed
In order to receive health care and compensation for illnesses stemming from water contamination at Camp Lejeune, your military records and medical records must prove the above requirements.
If you meet the requirements, you can file a claim online, at a regional VA office, or with the assistance of an accredited veterans service officer (VSO) or other representative. When filing your claim, it is important to state that you are applying for one or more presumptive illnesses related to the Camp Lejeune water contamination.