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Published:August 29th, 2009 22:30 EST
Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2009

Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2009

By David Bedworth

Senators Burr and Hagan of North Carolina are co-sponsoring a bill that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide health care to veterans and their family members who have experienced adverse health effects as a result of exposure to well water contaminated by carcinogens at the Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

 

The amazement for this author is not just that such a bill is being proposed but that there is so little public outrage and media coverage of the reasons why the bill is being sponsored in the first instance.  OK America now think!  Two Senators (and more joining the cause each day) have found reason to propose legislation to require care for veterans and family members to receive health care for being exposed to contaminated water at a Military Facility.  We are not just talking about a couple of families and Marines who have contracted a mild case of dysentery because of dirty water.  There are estimates of as many as a million veterans and family members suffering from illness as a result of this contamination.  One of the illness clusters is male breast cancer which is extremely rare.  A cluster of twenty men with breast cancer who were stationed at Camp Lejeune during the contamination period has been identified and this is just one indication of the severity of the public health risk that remains in the population of veterans and family members who were exposed to contamination.

 

The illness list is both long and tragic.  Liver cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, non Hodgkin`s lymphoma, liver disease, miscarriages, birth defects (cleft palate, heart defects, Choanal atresia, neural tube defects, low birth weight).  A review of veteran`s websites on this issue reveals other illnesses.  Brain cancer, neuropathy, chondrosarcoma, neutropenia, and numerous other unusual illnesses that defy explanation of cause by medical practitioners.

 

The government response has been equally long and tragic.  Roughly 12 years ago the Center for Disease Control designated the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to conduct an analysis of the contamination.  The ATSDR published an initial report that indicated little connection between the contamination and the growing population of ill people who were at the contamination sites.  Recently the ATSDR rescinded the report stating that it was not scientifically accurate and that it did not include some of the major carcinogens that were prevalent at one of the contamination sites.  Similarly the National Academy of Sciences conducted a parallel review via the auspices of the National Research Council (NRC).  The recently released NRC report was similar to the rescinded ATSDR report in that it did not see a strong link between exposure to contamination and emerging statistically significant illness clusters.  Like the ATSDR the NRC did not report on the entire spectrum of contaminants.  Doctor Mustafa Aral, Georgia Institute of Technology said of the NRC report:

 

What is in question here is the credibility of the complete contents of the NRC report as a scientific document of any value.

 

Why would Doctor Aral make such a derogatory comment about a report published by his colleagues and peers?  Because the contaminants include but are not limited to volatile organic compounds such as PCE (Tetrachloroethylene aka Perchloroethylene), TCE (Trichloroethylene), DCE (Dichloroethylene), Vinyl Chloride and BTEX (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylene).  Doctor Aral is also aware that epidemiological studies on these contaminants pose a known public health risk.  As a frame of reference for exposure levels, a contamination monitor site at Camp Lejeune recorded a benzene contamination level of 29,000 parts per billion when the EPA maximum exposure level was 5 parts per billion.  There are similar dramatically high recordings in the other contaminants.

 

The documented contamination has been made available through the Freedom of Information Act on a websitewww.tftptf.com.  The website is maintained by former Marines and family members who have been personally affected by the Camp Lejeune contamination.  Their stories are, again, tragic and heartrending.  There are more veterans and family members stepping forward each day to tell their story on this website.  The magnitude of illness is emotionally draining when reviewed in the context that these people have received nothing from the nation they choose to serve other than two seriously flawed scientific reports.  This aspect is specifically sickening when it is further noted that the two erroneous reports are being used by the Veteran`s Administration to deny benefits and aid to those who now suffer illness as a result of exposure to contaminants.

 

We ask much of our veterans and family members.  Veterans risk their lives and the family members tag along to wherever the veteran is assigned.  Death and injury are something that is a shadow over the lives of most military families.  Spouses and children know that their loved one has to go to war at times and may not always come back whole or at all.  They know this risk and they endure it with fortitude and spirit.  However, the veterans and family members at Camp Lejeune were not aware that the enemy was in the water, air and around them.  They did not know that the yard in which their children played carried carcinogens.  They did not know that the water contained chemicals and toxins so horrendously poisonous that the EPA noted that Camp Lejuene was one of the most toxic sites in the USA ".  These veterans and family members deserve the truth.  They deserve accountability for denied benefits and access to medical care for illness caused by willful neglect from a government they swore an oath to protect.  They deserve the support that Senator Burr and Hagan are attempting to provide them in the proposed legislation.