Late Breaking News
New Study Seeks to Quantify Association Between Contaminated Water at Camp Lejeune, Health Effects Cont.
Benefits for Those Exposed to the Water
Those who believe their illness is linked to the water have sought the help of Congress, which has held hearings on the issue. The Navy said at a hearing last year that it has funded $22 million in research, but that compensation could not be provided to those who believe their health was impacted by the contaminated water without more research showing the association.
“Currently, scientific studies haven’t determined reliably whether diseases and disorders experienced by former residents and workers at Camp Lejeune are associated with their exposure to contaminants in the water supply because of data shortcomings and methodological limitations,” Maj. Gen. Eugene G. Payne, said at a House subcommittee hearing last year.
Some members of Congress, however, say they do not believe federal help for the veterans and their families can wait. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced a bill that would extend special eligibility to veterans exposed to the water to get medical care from VA if they were stationed at Camp Lejeune. The bill also would allow their families who lived on the base to receive VA care for conditions that can be associated with the contaminated water. A similar bill has been sponsored in the U.S. House.
“Studies are under way to gauge how much of the dangerous chemicals they were exposed to and how it impacted their health,” Burr said at a VA hearing in June. “But those who were put at risk should not have to wait for these studies before VA will provide them with care. We should make sure they can get the treatment they need now, to combat any adverse effects from these toxins.”
The bill already faces some hurdles, because the VA and some service organizations said they do not support [the legislation] as written. Robert Jesse, MD, PhD, principal deputy under secretary for health at VHA, said in testimony at a VA Senate hearing that one difficulty is the impossibility of identifying veterans who may have visited Camp Lejeune for temporary duty or many of the family members who resided at or visited the base.
Currently, Camp Lejeune disability claims are handled on a case-by-case basis, he said.
The Disabled American Veterans group said it would prefer that any medical care provided to dependents be provided under TRICARE instead of VA.
In April of this year, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and four other members of Congress sent a letter to the Department of the Navy questioning its commitment to transparency regarding Camp Lejeune’s contaminated drinking water.
Burr, Sen. Kay R. Hagan (D-N.C.), and Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), along with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) wrote that they were concerned with the Marine Corps’ continued reliance on the 2009 National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council report that they said “downplays the link between the contaminated water and adverse health effects.” That report has been criticized by lawmakers and advocates such as Portier because they say that the report was not comprehensive and did not evaluate harmful toxins such as benzene found in the water.
Additionally, the letter also calls on the Navy and U.S. Marine Corps to coordinate with ATSDR before they release information to the public about the health effects of the contaminated water. The lawmakers wrote, “this continued lack of coordination” was evident in the Marine Corps’ publication of the pamphlet “Camp Lejeune Historic Drinking Water: Questions and Answers,” which they said understates the potential hazards from the contaminated drinking water and “misleads the public.”
Capt. Gregory Wolf, a spokesperson for the Marine Corps, said the National Academies has assured the Secretary of the Navy that the NRC continues to stand behind its report and that it would not be correct to state that the NRC report failed to consider other potential contaminants, such as benzene.
Wolf also insisted that Navy/Marine Corps “is now, and has been, fully engaged with ATSDR as it conducts several ongoing studies.”
“We have a general course of conduct that both sides have agreed to follow. We are refining a protocol with ATSDR and hope to finalize it soon,” he said via e-mail.
The Secretary of the Navy also said in response to the letter from the members of Congress that the Navy believes the booklet is “currently accurate and provides accurate information.” However, the Navy has set a goal to complete an update of it by late summer of 2011, he said.