In a historic decision, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has agreed to pay out billions to Marines exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Over a period of two years, the federal government will dedicate $2 billion for disability benefits related to eight medical conditions linked to exposure to contaminated drinking water, the Associated Press reports.
“We have a responsibility to take care of those who have served our nation and have been exposed to harm as a result of that service,” outgoing VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in an announcement Friday.
There’s now enough scientific evidence to suggest some causal link between contaminated drinking water and conditions like leukemia, cancer and Parkinson’s disease, among others, according to McDonald.
The benefits will cover active-duty or reserve Marines and National Guard members who were stationed at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days from between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987.
So far, there are more than 1,000 applications submitted in the queue to the VA for access to the new benefits.
Veteran will have to send in details of their service to the VA to qualify, namely evidence that they served during the 30-year period from 1953-1987 and a diagnosis of one of the eight medical conditions.
The VA estimates that 23,000 veterans will apply for assistance, even though potentially up to 900,000 servicemembers were exposed to the tainted drinking water.
“This is good news,” retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger told the Associated Press. Ensminger’s daughter was born at Lejeune in 1976. She later died due to leukemia.
“This has been a hard, long slog,” Ensminger added. “This is not the end of the issue.”
Ensminger believes the VA should also cover other diseases beyond the eight already listed.
Other former Marines like Keith English are still fighting, as he’s been diagnosed with numerous types of cancers that are not on the approved list of conditions, such as throat cancer, lung cancer and lip cancer.
According to English, the tainted water would have come into contact with two of the three areas where he developed cancerous tissue.
“My cancers are definitely the result of being exposed to that contaminated water,” English said.
English is a part of a class action lawsuit to expand medical conditions eligible for benefits.
The reason the new benefits are historic is because they’re being allocated to servicemembers who did not sustain injuries or diseases in a combat arena.
“It’s a major first,” Dr. Ralph Erickson, a chief health consultant at the VA, told the Associated Press.
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