VA Recognizes Disability Caused by Service at Camp Lejeune
For nearly 30 years the water at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune was contaminated by
various chemicals. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) is now proposing
regulations recognizing that kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia,
multiple myeloma, scleroderma, Parkinson's disease and aplastic anemia or other
myelodysplastic syndromes are ”presumptively” caused by having served for at least 30 days at
Camp Lejeune, North Carolina between 8/01/1953 and 12/31/1987. However, these proposed
regulations are not yet final and may not be for sometime.
The VA provides benefits to veterans who can demonstrate that various medical conditions they
suffer from can be attributed to the time of their military service. Normally the burden on such
claimants is fairly high to provide abundant medical records and physicians’ opinions to that
effect. Yet there are certain circumstances where VA will automatically treat a condition as
being service connected if a claimant served in a particular location or was exposed to certain
dangerous substances, such as Agent Orange. VA has now proposed rules that will add to its
list of “presumptive conditions” claimants who now suffer from one of these eight enumerated
medical conditions and who served at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in the relevant time frame.
Nearly a million people, including troops, family members and civilian employees working at
Camp Lejeune from the 1950s through the 1980s were exposed to these chemicals and other
cancer-causing agents in the base's drinking water, supplied by two water treatment facilities
polluted by dry cleaning compounds, leaking underground storage tanks, industrial spills and
poor disposal practices. VA Secretary Robert McDonald has said that research by health
experts at the Veterans Health Administration and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicated that the risk of
developing these illnesses is elevated by exposure to contaminants found in the water, including
perchloroethylene, trichloroetheylene, benzene and other volatile organic compounds.
"The water at Camp Lejeune was a hidden hazard, and it is only years later that we know how
dangerous it was," McDonald said. "We thank ATSDR for the thorough review that provided
much of the evidence we needed to fully compensate veterans who develop one of the
conditions known to be related to exposure to the compounds in the drinking water."
The VA has provided health care or reimbursement for medical costs for veterans or family
members of veterans who served at Camp Lejeune at least 30 days during the affected period
and who suffer from some 15 illnesses related to exposure to water contaminated by solvents
and fuels, but it had not awarded presumptive status to any condition until now.
VA acknowledges that current science establishes a link between exposure to certain chemicals
found in the water supply at Camp Lejeune and later development of one of the proposed
presumptive conditions. However, VA experts agree that there is no scientific underpinning to
support a specific minimum exposure level for any of the conditions. Therefore, VA welcomes
comments on the 30-day minimum exposure requirement and will consider other practical
alternatives when drafting the final rule. VA also notes that the proposed 30-day requirement
serves to establish eligibility for service connection on a presumptive basis; nothing in this