What Camp Lejeune Veterans Should Do Now
Attention Camp Lejeune veterans and families: If you’ve been watching our blog, you know we have been keeping up to date on the proposed VA rules to provide VA disability compensation to Marines exposed to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune toxic water. Through each step of the VA’s rulemaking process, we shared big news about coming changes to VA regulations making it easier for Camp Lejeune veterans to receive disability benefits for disease and disabilities related to toxic water exposure there. In case you didn’t catch that news, you can find one of our articles here.
Over a year ago, we had a blog that said, “To us, it looks as though these changes will take effect; now it is only a question of when.”
We are happy to say we got this one right.
VA has published the new rule creating presumptions for certain Camp Lejeune veterans, which means entitlement to VA disability compensation benefits.
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.
Rule Change for VA Claims Related to Camp Lejeune Toxic Water
Until now, Camp Lejeune veterans had to prove service-connection if they claimed their disabilities were related to exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. That required evidence of toxic water exposure and a nexus to their current disability. That was often too difficult and expensive for many veterans or their survivors.
Because each claim required so much scientific and medical evidence to be reviewed, it also created a claims processing nightmare for VA. In light of the scientific studies, VA’s new rule creates a presumption that certain diseases are service-connected. Those diseases are:
- adult leukemia
- aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- bladder cancer
- kidney cancer
- liver cancer
- multiple myeloma
- non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
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 list of presumptive diseases for VA disability compensation.
The new rule limits the presumption to veterans with one of the listed disabilities who served at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987.
In a previous update we gave on the Camp Lejeune proposal, we said, “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.”
That prediction also held true. The rule states that veterans eligible for the Camp Lejeune presumption must have been stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days.
Here is one important thing to note about this 30-day requirement: those 30 days don’t have to be consecutive. You just need 30 days total during the time frame. In other words, if you were a Marine training at Camp Lejeune for two weeks and then went back several years later for another few weeks (all within the period from 1953 to 1987), you could satisfy the 30-day requirement.
Do Reservists and National Guard Members Qualify for This Camp Lejeune Presumption?
Here is one major change: this new presumption will cover Camp Lejeune service of Reserve and National Guard personnel as well. That is a dramatic expansion of VA’s statutory definition of “veteran,” which has been limited in the past to active duty only.
However, this change is not that obvious. The rule creates yet another presumption that we haven’t seen with Vietnam veterans exposed to herbicides or other veterans suffering the secondary effects of TBIs. This latest presumption is that affected Camp Lejeune veterans became disabled during their military service.
Here’s why that’s important. Reservists and National Guard Members can only obtain eligible veteran status if they become disabled during active service. Thus, with this additional presumption they come within the definition of eligible Camp Lejeune veterans.
What to Do If You Are an Eligible Camp Lejeune Veteran With One of the Presumed Diseases
We want to cover a few questions that you may have if you or a loved one served at Camp Lejeune and are considering filing a VA disability claim.
When should I file my claim for Camp Lejeune benefits?
Even when this rule was just a proposal in 2015 and 2016, we were urging disabled Camp Lejeune veterans exposed to toxic water to go ahead and file their VA disability compensation claims.
Then and now, our strategy is the same: Go ahead and file your claim now. If you wait, you will miss out on the earliest possible effective date and lose out on months or years of potential benefits.
The new rule goes into effect March 14, 2017. Approximately 1,400 claims have been “stayed” while this rule was being finalized. Expect to receive a decision in the near future after that date if you are one of those veterans who had already filed.
What If I Don’t Have One of the Listed Presumptive Diseases?
Remember, this new regulation only includes eight diseases right now. They are the only ones that qualify for a presumed nexus between the contaminated water exposure and the current disability. Based on what we know about the science behind these particular types of toxic exposures, we think it will change at some point.
After all, the VA has not been entirely consistent in its list of diseases. It has a longer list of 15 diseases for which veterans and family members can receive VA medical treatment on account of Camp Lejeune water exposure. Hopefully, the disability side will eventually catch up to the medical side.
Also, veterans’ advocates will likely push to expand the list of presumptive diseases. As scientist publish more studies and connect more diseases, the list will likely expand.
The Agent Orange presumptive diseases list has expanded over the years. The Nehmer case required VA to go back and grant Agent Orange claims that were originally denied but later covered by the presumption and pay benefits back to the date of the earlier denied application.
Because history could repeat itself with Camp Lejeune toxic water claims, you should file now even if your condition is not on the presumptive list. Even if VA does not approve your claim now, new rule changes later could help you.
VA may have to go back and apply these new rules to your original claim.It could mean a substantial difference in the amount of benefits you ultimately receive. Again, don’t wait. File your VA disability compensation claim for Camp Lejeune toxic water now.
We Are Here to Help Camp Lejeune Veterans and Families
If you or a loved one was stationed at Camp Lejeune and have questions about eligibility for VA benefits, we are happy to talk to you. We provide free consultations to veterans and their families. This article explains how that process works.
Setting up a consultation is easy. Just call us at (770) 214-8885 or complete this consultation request form to set up a free consultation.
Travis Studdard is an attorney who focuses on representing veterans in VA disability compensation claims. He regularly writes about issues that are important to veterans and their families.
You can subscribe to his Veterans Disability channel on YouTube.
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