The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced Monday that it will review the disability coverage for Marines who developed cancer and other health problems after being exposed to chemical contaminants in the water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Tests led by the government's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found links to deaths and diseases. The VA said the new coverage would be made in addition to the health care it already provides for over a dozen conditions to those who lived at the camp for at least 30 days between August 1953 and December 1987.
“Today’s announcement is a testament to the good things that can happen when Congress and the VA work together in concert to overcome the agency’s bureaucracy to ensure our nation’s veterans are afforded the benefits and care they deserve when they are harmed while serving our great nation, whether it be through combat or environmental exposures,” Mike Partain, who was born at Camp Lejeune and contracted male breast cancer, said, according to the Associated Press.
Documents reportedly show that Marine leaders failed to take action when tests in the early 1980s found evidence of groundwater contamination from leaking fuel tanks and a nearby dry cleaner, as well as an alleged radioactive dump site near the camp’s rifle range. Officials believe that up to 1 million people may have been affected by the tainted water.
In 2012, U.S. lawmakers signed the Janey Ensminger Act -- named after the daughter of Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger -- which provides health benefits to Marines and their family members who were exposed to the tainted drinking water.
Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C., also said Monday that the VA will begin granting presumptive disability status, which means that eligible veterans will be given the benefit of the doubt when they claim that their health was affected by the water.
"The scientific research is strong and the widespread denials of benefits will soon end," Burr reportedly said. "Now, these veterans and their families members will not have to fight for benefits they are due."