Defense & National Security

No more waiting for poisoned Marines

No more waiting for poisoned Marines

Better 30 years late than never.

Monday, the House of Representatives sent a widely supported bill to the president that would grant health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs to all troops and family members affected by chemical water contamination aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune during a period stretching from the 1950s to the 1980s–a pool that could include up to 750,000 people. After decades of waiting, Marine veterans who served the country with honor are a signature away from the care they were promised when they enlisted. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation.

Bundled into a comprehensive package of veterans’ legislation, the Janey Ensminger Act would cover 15 specific medical conditions for military veterans poisoned by chemical solvents such as TCE, PCE, and benzene, which seeped into base drinking water because of improper disposal practices and an underground leak at a fuel farm. Healthcare for affected family members would also be covered, with the VA designated as a “payer of last resort.”

Though previous estimates have put the cost of caring for the Lejeune veterans and families at just shy of $4 billion, Congressional Budget Office scoring put the measure’s cost at roughly $160 million for the first five years. Most of the funding for the entire legislative package will be drawn from discretionary accounts.

While cases of severe illnesses and cancer connected with serving aboard Lejeune are well-documented–over 70 men who lived on the base have been diagnosed with the rare male breast cancer–the administration has so far worked to avoid footing the bill for these veterans’ care. Officials with the Department of the Navy have said they are waiting on the results of a new round of studies and water modeling research undertaken by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, maintaining meanwhile that there is no proof that tainted Camp Lejeune water made anyone ill.

As Human Events reported earlier this year, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki used the same reasoning, calling the decision premature when House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) asked that the department’s budget surpluses be used to pay for the Lejeune veterans’ healthcare.

But leaders of ATSDR have publicly said the base water was “clearly a hazard” and two of the contaminants, TCE and Benzene, are listed with the EPA as known human carcinogens.

After the bill passed with a voice vote in the House on Tuesday, Miller celebrated the victory, long in coming.

“This legislation is a culmination of more than a year’s worth of work on behalf of America’s veterans, and an example of what lawmakers can accomplish working together in a bipartisan manner,” he said in a statement.

The namesake of the bill, Janey, was a Lejeune Marine’s young daughter who died at 9 years old from childhood leukemia believed to be caused by the water. Janey’s father, retired Marine master sergeant Jerry Ensminger, has spent over a decade lobbying on behalf of the Lejeune veterans and their families.

Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), who with Republican Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) sponsored the earliest version of the bill, gave credit on the House floor to the veterans who challenged the administration and ultimately won.

“By honoring Janey Ensminger, we honor those americans who have shown remarkable determination to make their government do the right thing,” he said. “…They took on their own government, including the Marine Corps, that they had served, and to which they are still loyal, but which has been shamefully reluctant to accept responsibility for the water contamination.”

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