VA to give disability status to veterans poisoned by Camp Lejeune water

JACKSONVILLE, NC (WWAY) — Another victory for veterans made sick by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced those victims will receive disability benefits.

The VA will begin the process of granting “presumptive disability” status to veterans who have certain cancers and conditions from long term exposure to the chemicals that contaminated the base water system from 1953-1987. The VA is conceding that it will no longer deny benefits to eligible veterans based on VA’s faulty and selective interpretations of science.  The VA’s use of “presumptive status” means the benefit of the doubt goes to the veteran as long as VA determines they meet eligibility requirements.

Jerry Ensminger said it’s about time. Ensminger began working to get answers about the base’s water after his daughter Janey died of cancer. He says he discovered his daughter’s cancer came from long term exposure to chemicals that contaminated base water.

“This has been a fight all the way, all along,” said Ensminger. “This has been an 18 year effort for me.”

In 2012 President Obama signed a bill named after his daughter Janey, giving health care to marines who got sick from the water. But Ensminger says the VA wasn’t making it easy for veterans who were exposed to the tainted tap water, to get those benefits.

“To get service connected benefits they had to jump through all these hoops and go through the VA’s claims process,” said Ensminger. “It was a joke.”

But now after the announcement veterans affected by the toxic tap water will have an easier time receiving benefits.

“It’s a great feeling. It’ll be a great sigh of relief for a lot of Camp Lejeune veterans and their families,” said Ensminger.

Some of those people Ensminger thanks for the help are Senator Richard Burr and Senator Thom Tillis.

According to a release the senators pressured the VA to acknowledge the Center for Disease Control and other scientific bodies’ findings that showed the water was making people sick.

“I’m disappointed that we had to pressure the VA to do the right thing for our veterans in the first place,” said Burr. “The scientific research is strong and the widespread denials of benefits will soon end. Now, these veterans and their families members will not have to fight for benefits they are due.”

Senators Burr and Tillis recently met with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald and the Director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to talk about ways the VA could begin providing benefits to veterans with diseases caused by the poisoned water at Camp Lejeune.

“I look forward to seeing the commitment Secretary McDonald gave me realized without unnecessary delay and I credit him and Dr. Breysse of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for their commitment to righting this wrong,” said Burr.

“The evidence has been accumulating for years now – many of those who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune in years past developed certain diseases after exposure to contaminated drinking water. Compensating these victims, our Nation’s heroes and their families, is simply the right thing to do and I commend Secretary McDonald for taking this bold step for responsible government,” said Tillis.

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