1/13/17 UPDATE: VA has issued the Camp Lejeune Rules regarding disability compensation. Read this article to find out about the new rules and how they could help veterans and their families.
Attention Camp Lejeune veterans and families: Veterans Affairs has issued a news release that will send shockwaves through the VA disability compensation claims process. On December 17, 2015, VA announced it will propose expanded disability compensation eligibility for veterans exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
You can find VA’s full press release here. For those familiar with the presumptions related to Agent Orange for Vietnam veterans, this change will probably work similarly. Although these changes are just a proposal right now, they appear to have the full support of VA Secretary McDonald. To us, it looks as though these changes will take effect; now it is only a question of when.
Camp Lejeune: The Tragic Backstory
In case you have not heard, Camp Lejeune’s water supply was contaminated from leaking storage tanks that leached toxic chemicals into the ground water from 1953 to 1987. Percholoroethylene, trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, benzene, and other petroleum contaminants were in the water that Marines and their families used on a daily basis for bathing, drinking, and cooking. Generations of Camp Lejeune veterans and their families have experienced higher than expected rates of a host of diseases.
For years, the government denied any connection between the toxic water and the health problems. New scientific studies by the Veterans Health Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ASTDR) have provided solid evidence that there is indeed a connection between the contaminants and the wide array of diseases experienced by those who were at Camp Lejeune.
Proposed Change for VA Claims Related to Camp Lejeune Toxic Water
Right now, Camp Lejeune veterans must prove service-connection if they claim their disabilities are related to exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. That requires evidence of toxic water exposure and a nexus to their current disability. That can be too difficult and expensive for many veterans or their survivors.
Because each claim requires so much scientific evidence, it also creates a claims processing nightmare for VA. In light of the scientific studies by VHA, ASTDR, and other organizations, VA is
proposing new rules that would create a presumption that certain diseases are service-connected. Those diseases are:
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Multiple myeloma
- Parkinson’s disease
- Aplastic anemia/Myelodysplastic Syndromes
Veteran’s Health Administration already has a list of presumptive diseases that qualify eligible Camp Lejeune veterans and their families for VA healthcare. But, that list covers more diseases than the proposed list of presumptive diseases for VA disability compensation. It will be interesting to see if the final change is more in line with VHA’s list. There is good scientific data supporting VHA’s list, so hopefully there will be equal treatment on the disability compensation side.
What Camp Lejeune Veterans Will Qualify for These New Presumptions?
The proposal limits the presumption to veterans with one of the listed disabilities who served at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987. Although the Secretary’s statement does not specify how much exposure is required, our attorneys believe the final rule could be in line with the rules already in place Camp Lejeune-related healthcare. That is, if the veteran was stationed at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days, VA will presume he or she was sufficiently exposed to the contaminated water there.
Here is one major change: this new presumption could potentially cover Camp Lejeune service of Reserve and National Guard personnel as well. That would be a dramatic expansion of VA’s statutory definition of “veteran,” which has been limited in the past to active duty only.
Our Attorneys Are Monitoring These Developments
Our VA-accredited attorneys at Perkins Studdard, LLP have long recognized the need for VA to do something about the Camp Lejeune disability compensation mess. We have seen too many veterans and their survivors denied benefits that common sense says were caused by the toxic water at Camp Lejeune. We are pleased to see this positive development and will be bringing you updates as they happen.
In the meantime, if you have questions about a VA disability compensation claim, whether related to Camp Lejeune or anything else, feel free to contact us. You can complete the form on this page for a free consultation, or you can give us a call at (770) 214-8885 to discuss your claim.