The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published a new rule on January 13, 2017 which creates a presumption of service connection for eight diseases which scientists have tied to exposure to contaminants in the water supply at the U.S. Marine Corp base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Who is covered?
Any active duty, reserve and National Guard member who served at Camp Lejeune for a minimum of 30 days (cumulative) between Aug. 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1987 will be entitled to the presumption if they contract one of the eight diseases that were connected to the water supply there. Covered areas include anywhere at Camp Lejeune, MCAS New River, and satellite camps and housing areas.
8 diseases are presumed connected to the Camp Lejuene water supply.
Covered veterans must be diagnosed with one or more of the following conditions:
- adult leukemia
- aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- bladder cancer
- kidney cancer
- liver cancer
- multiple myeloma
- non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
Water contamination history at Camp Lejeune – Basis for the presumptions of service connection.
In the 1980s, many chemical agents were found in the water supply system at Camp Lejeune. These chemicals included trichloroethylene (TCE), a metal degreaser, and perchloroethylene (PCE), a dry cleaning agent, as well as benzene and vinyl chloride. The contaminated wells supplying the water systems were not shut down until February 1985. The government has been studying the water at various times since then, including studies done by VA, the Department of Health and Human Service’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the Environmental Protection Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the National Toxicology Program, and the National Academies of Science. This new rule is the result of those years of study.
Four years ago, Congress previously passed a law which provided health benefits to veterans and others who were stationed at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 cumulative days during the contamination period. The law was called the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012.
When do the new Camp Lejeune presumptions go into effect?
The new rule goes into effect on March 14, 2017. Any veteran who has a claim pending for one of the presumptive conditions on that date or after that date will be covered. This includes new claims that have not yet been decided, as well as claims that were properly appealed before the effective date. A veteran that previously filed a claim that was denied, but who did not file a timely appeal, would have to file a new claim.
What about other conditions doctors say are related to the water supply?
A veteran may still be able to prove that another condition is service connected under VA rules, even if it is not listed in the new Camp Lejeune regulation. A physician will need to give an opinion that the condition is service connected, and explain why. We expect that the VA will have a very high standard for conditions that were not listed in the new rule (even though it should be no higher than any other regular service connected disability), because they believe these 8 diseases are the only ones that have been proven to be connected to the Camp Lejeune water supply. However, if a veteran can supply medical or other research that explains the connection, they may be able to prove service connected for unlisted conditions.