VA quietly giving benefits to Marines exposed to toxic water

Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:29 am
If you are a Marine vet or know of someone who was stationed at Camp Lejeune, this information will be valuable to them. See how to learn more below. ---BBB

VA quietly giving benefits to Marines exposed to toxic water
By Barbara Barrett | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Former Marine Corps Cpl. Peter Devereaux was told about a year ago that he had just two or three years to live.

More than 12 months later, at 48, he still isn't ready to concede that the cancer that's wasting his innards is going to kill him. He swallows his pills and suffers the pain and each afternoon he greets his 12-year-old daughter, Jackie, as she steps off her school bus in North Andover, Mass.

The U.S. Department of the Navy says that more research is needed to connect ailments suffered by Marines such as Devereaux who served at Camp Lejeune and their families who lived there to decades of water contamination at the 156,000-acre base in eastern North Carolina. Meanwhile, however, the Department of Veterans Affairs has quietly begun awarding benefits to a few Marines who were based at Lejeune.

"Right now, I would venture to say that any Camp Lejeune veteran who files a claim now is presumed to have been exposed to the contaminated drinking water," Brad Flohr, the assistant director for policy, compensation and pension service at the VA, told a meeting of affected Marines and family members in April.

It's estimated that as many as a million people were exposed to the water from the 1950s to the 1980s. The water was laced with trichloroethylene, known as TCE; tetrachloroethylene, known as PCE; benzene and other volatile organic chemicals.

Peter Devereaux doesn't expect to be around for Jackie's college years, but he hopes to be able to pay for them. Along with hundreds of other veterans across the country, he's convinced that contaminated water caused his cancer.

"It's like it's criminal, you know?" said Devereaux, who has male breast cancer.

While the Department of the Navy, which oversees the base, is funding continuing research on the issue, in some cases the VA has acknowledged that as likely as not, some Marine veterans' ailments were caused by drinking and bathing in poisonous water.

Despite the exposure, though, there's no presumption that a veteran's disease was caused by the contamination. Each case is judged on hits own merits, Flohr said.

Still, veterans' advocates have hope.

"It matters. That's an admission, right there," said Jerry Ensminger, a Marine veteran in North Carolina who lost his daughter to leukemia in 1985 after living at Camp Lejeune.

James Watters of Lubbock, Texas, was told in 2008 that he had a year to live. In June 2009, he learned that the VA had linked his cancer to the Lejeune contamination.

"This thing is huge in its ramifications," Watters said. "I think it just opens the floodgates."

More Marine veterans are learning about what happened years ago at Camp Lejeune.

Two years ago, a new law required the Defense Department to contact veterans through the Internal Revenue Service and tell them about their exposure.

Many veterans interviewed by McClatchy said they had no idea that they'd been exposed until they opened the envelopes in the mail.

"You know what went off in my head? A light bulb," said Allen Menard, 47, of Green Bay, Wis. His doctor had told him years before that his form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, mycosis fungoides, was chemical-related.

He filed for VA disability in 2008, blaming his cancer on Lejeune's water, and was at first denied before finally he was granted a full service connection, a recognition that his illness is related to his service, this spring.

"I did my research. I had to fight," Menard said. "I had two professors at Boston University write letters for me."

One of those professors, epidemiologist Richard Clapp, said veterans deserve an answer about what effects the water might have had on their health.

"It's a horrific problem," said Clapp, who serves on a community panel that's studying the Lejeune contamination. "There are lots of people exposed, some to very high levels of these chemicals. Some for short periods for time, some for decades."

The public is only now beginning to realize the extent of the contamination.

Stories among the veterans indicate a handful have been given service connections. Each case means the VA has established that there's at least a 50 percent chance that the veteran's military service caused the ailment.

The awards are inconsistent, however. While a veteran in Wisconsin is offered payment, one in Florida with similar symptoms is denied. The VA doesn't keep track, and Flohr said this spring that he'd just learned about many of the successful appeals.

Legislation in the House of Representatives and Senate would establish presumptions between service connection and illnesses associated with the contamination, but those bills are still pending.

Although advocates are energized by recent VA benefits awards, a McClatchy review of some Veterans Affairs decisions shows that connections to the toxic water at Lejeune have been made in the past.

In 2002, for example, the agency granted a service connection to a veteran with cancer of the hard palate. The veteran, whose name is redacted, had served from 1982 to 1987 at Lejeune. His application was denied in 1995 and again in 1999.

After he sent in medical opinions about the contamination, an appeals board granted the service connection.

Another challenge for Veterans Affairs and federal scientists comes in deciding what diseases might have been caused by which chemical in the water.

For now, Flohr said the VA is trying to educate regional offices around the country. Last month, the agency sent a memo to its regional offices describing contamination of TCE and PCE.

The memo says there may be limited association between those chemicals and cancers of the kidney, breast, bladder, lung or esophagus.

The Veteran Affairs memo doesn't mention benzene, even though federal scientists said a year ago that benzene has emerged as a central suspect in the contamination. Benzene is a known carcinogen.

The distinction about which chemicals were present in the water is important, because they're associated with different diseases.

For years, Marine veteran Michael Schooler suspected that Agent Orange he was exposed to in Vietnam was responsible for his acute myoletic leukemia. Then McClatchy and other news outlets reported this year that benzene has had a far greater significance in the contamination than scientists had previously realized.

"I asked my doctor, 'Does benzene cause it?' " recalled Schooler, 61, of Jasper, Ind. "He lit up like a Christmas tree. He said, 'That's what causes it.'"

Schooler filed an appeal this spring. He expects to learn this month whether the VA will grant the service connection for benzene exposure.

In Massachusetts, Peter Devereaux also waits, drawing on the patience he learned while he was in the Marines.

"I'm terminal," he said. "Being a man, I only want to take care of my wife and daughter, like I always have."


Veterans who think they might have been affected by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune can apply for service connection health benefits from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. You can apply by filling out VA Form 21-526, Veterans Application for Compensation and/or Pension.

The VA recommends that if you have any of the following material, please attach it to your application:

•Discharge or separation papers (DD214 or equivalent)

•Dependency records (marriage & children's birth certificates)

•Medical evidence (doctor & hospital reports)

Veterans who have applied for benefits related to water contamination at Camp Lejeune say they strongly recommend a medical nexus letter from a doctor.

For more information, contact your local VA office or your local veterans service organization, or go online to http://www.vba.va.gov/VBA/

The Marine Corps also has a website about the Lejeune contamination, https://clnr.hqi.usmc.mil/clwater/

A group of Marine veterans and affected family members has a website on the issue, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, www.tftptf.com


Department of Veterans Affairs fact sheet on Camp Lejeune water contamination

Department of Veterans Affairs benefits website

"The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten: Camp Lejeune Toxic Water"

Camp Lejeune Historic Drinking Water

About Camp Lejeune

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Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:32 am
Yikes! Thanks for getting this out there!
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:35 am
We've got the same problem with toxic water caused by a military camp in Albuquerque, except that it has spread into the civilian water supply near the camp.

Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:38 am
Congress pushes military to release data on Camp Lejeune water
By Barbara Barrett | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Angered by what they consider the military's reticence to reveal all it knows about decades of water contamination on a North Carolina Marine base, lawmakers want to force the Marine Corps and the Navy to produce an inventory of all the documentation scientists need to understand the contamination.

Senators and members of the House of Representatives have inserted language into the 2011 defense authorization bill that would require Defense Secretary Robert Gates to certify that the military has done so.

More than a million people are thought to have been exposed to the contaminated water from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s. Some 156,000 people from all 50 states have registered with the Marines to get information on the contamination, which many say has caused a variety of cancers and other ailments.

The House version of the bill gives the Defense Department 180 days to act; the Senate version offers 90 days.

For the past year, federal scientists have complained that the Marine Corps and its parent agency, the Department of the Navy, haven't been fully open about the reams of documentation the military holds on the tainted water.

"The military stalled for three decades," said Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the top Republican on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "To carry out their study, (scientists) have got to have all relevant documents, and the Navy has been less than helpful at providing those."

The dispute among Congress, the military and scientists at an obscure federal agency in Atlanta opens a window into how a behind-the-scenes battle among bureaucrats can have lasting effects on thousands of people nationwide.

Accurate science on the poisons' effects could prove crucial in lawsuits against the U.S. government by Marines' family members, and to veterans who are trying to receive health benefits related to their service at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

"We are at a crucial point. We must get this right now," said Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., the head of the House Science and Technology Committee's oversight panel, who worked to shape the House defense bill.

A year ago, a new discovery about benzene — a key component of gasoline — forced the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to toss out a 10-year-old study about the water's impact on health.

The agency, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is responsible for studying the health effects of major contamination sites around the country.

This winter, McClatchy reported on documents that show that up to 800,000 gallons of fuel spilled into aquifers that fed barracks, officers' quarters and the base's hospital, far more than previously had been estimated.

"Every study would have changed dramatically if they'd known what the concentrations were, because the concentration of benzene would've been higher," said Burr, who also sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In March, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry wrote the military questioning whether the Pentagon had turned over everything it promised, pointing out another new discovery, 700,000 records of analytical data.

The Navy responded that it doesn't have the expertise to know exactly what papers the scientists want. Military officers also said they'd been completely open with the scientists.

"ATSDR has always had, and will continue to have, full access to all information we control related to water contamination at Camp Lejeune," the Marines said in a news statement last month.

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., argued that the scientists shouldn't have to go hunting for what they need.

"These provisions will help conclude the Camp Lejeune water contamination studies and, most importantly, bring closure to our former Lejeune families, who have been waiting too long for answers," said Hagan, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a co-sponsor of the Senate language.

The documentation involved in the contamination is voluminous.

McClatchy has reviewed thousands of pages of documents on the matter. They include years' worth of water tests, handwritten scrawls about phone conversations, internal memos, meeting minutes and detailed reports from outside engineering firms about the likely flow and scientific properties of various chemicals.

Ongoing scientific studies could help determine a link between chemicals in the water and the various cancers and other ailments that many Marines and their family members suffer.

For years, federal scientists thought that the main contaminants in the water were trichloroethylene, known as TCE; and tetrachloroethylene, known as PCE. The Environmental Protection Agency lists both as probable carcinogens, and both have been linked to kidney and liver problems and birth defects.

About a year ago, however, scientists stumbled across an online library of thousands of documents that included reports, memos and water tests. They learned that benzene, a known carcinogen, was found in some of the water in 1984 at 380 parts per billion, more than 70 times the current federal standard.

At the time, benzene was considered dangerous but was unregulated. It's been linked to low birth weight, leukemia and blood problems, and the EPA now recommends a benzene content in drinking water of zero.

Last year's discovery was so significant that scientists withdrew a 10-year-old study on the water.

Retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger of White Lake, N.C., who's spent years trying to understand the contamination, lost his daughter to leukemia in 1985 after living at Camp Lejeune.

He praised the congressional work on the amendments, saying the legislation is needed to force action by the military and the scientists.

"I, along with many other victims of this tragic issue, are having a difficult time believing the sincerity of their statements," Ensminger said of the Marines. He said the military hadn't fulfilled a memorandum of understanding between the Navy and federal scientists that was signed in 1991.

Scientists have begun new studies, including an epidemiological study and a water modeling project that tries to track how contaminants would have dissipated through the aquifer and been drawn into the base's well system.

"It is unfortunate we must require something as simple as this by statute," said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who co-sponsored the House amendment. "But 23 years after the contaminated wells were shut down, we have had enough delay from the Department of the Navy."

The Senate defense authorization bill, which has yet to be debated in the full Senate, also would forbid the Navy from spending money to refute financial claims about the water contamination until the scientific studies are completed.

The House amendment, which passed late Thursday, doesn't include that language.


"The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten: Camp Lejeune Toxic Water"

"Camp Lejeune Historic Drinking Water"

Reply Fri 25 Jun, 2010 07:38 am

Thursday, June 24, 2010
Tanks leaked fuel near Camp Lejeune well
By Barbara Barrett | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Federal scientists studying the history of water contamination at Camp Lejeune, N.C., have learned of another source of leaking fuel — this one less than a football field away from a drinking well that once served thousands of Marines and their families.

The well was closed in December 1984 after benzene was found in the water.

The source of contamination that scientists now are exploring was once an on-base refueling station within an area of the Marine base known as Hadnot Point. The refueling facility, Building 1115, contained seven underground storage tanks that ranged in size from 1,000 to 5,000 gallons.

The extent of the contamination on the Marine base — and its sources — are important to federal scientists at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, who are trying to understand the health effects of the contaminants in the base's water.

Officials at ATSDR were unable to respond Thursday to e-mailed questions about Building 1115.

It's estimated that from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s as many as a million people were exposed to water contaminated with trichloroethylene, or TCE; tetrachloroethylene, or PCE; vinyl chloride; benzene, a key component of gasoline and a known human carcinogen; and other chemicals.

McClatchy has reviewed hundreds of documents about the chemical contamination at Camp Lejeune that report finding benzene in untreated groundwater at levels thousands of times higher than the federal drinking water standard permits, and that show benzene has seeped into the deep aquifer under the base.

Nearly three decades after contaminated wells were closed, monitoring wells are still finding poisons at thousands of times the drinking water safety standards in the aquifers below the military base, according to documents that McClatchy obtained from the state of North Carolina.

As recently as this January, benzene was found at levels as high as 18,600 parts per billion in water from one untreated groundwater monitoring well at Lejeune. The federal standard for drinking water from the Environmental Protection Agency is 5 parts per billion; the state of North Carolina pegs it at 1 part per billion.

Monitoring wells have been installed around the base to help officials understand what contaminants remain in the groundwater.

There's no evidence that Lejeune's drinking water is contaminated today, but the plumes that still lurk in the underground aquifers are testimony to how extensive the contamination was at the base — and that much of it persists.

The Marine Corps and the Department of the Navy are undergoing an extensive, multimillion-dollar cleanup program under the oversight of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

A 1993 review of environmental treatment options found that storage tanks containing fuel, cleaning solvents and other chemicals were buried at sites across Camp Lejeune for years.

Many of the storage tanks leaked, but how badly is unknown. However, officials have estimated that more than 1 million gallons of fuel may have seeped into the sandy soil at the base, according to memos obtained by McClatchy.

A 1988 monitoring report describes a 15-foot layer of fuel floating on top of the water table a few feet below the surface of a fuel farm at the Hadnot Point Industrial Area. The same report found evidence of benzene in monitoring wells at levels of as much as 29,000 parts per billion.

Other documents show that in 2006, benzene at levels of more than 7,000 parts per billion was being found far underground, in what's known as the deep aquifer.

Fuel floats on water, and normally wouldn't be found so far underground.

A contractor told the military in 2008 that over-pumping by the base's wells appeared to have sucked fuel and other contaminants into the deep aquifer. The contaminants then became trapped, and many of them remain there.

The transcript of a 1988 technical review committee meeting of federal, state and military officials reveals the scientists' concern about benzene as they discussed the Hadnot Point fuel farm.

According to the meeting transcript, one official mentioned a monitoring test that found benzene in the aquifer at 30 parts per billion. He described the test result this way: "Fairly low, but still toxic enough that you don't want to touch that water."

Over the years, investigators discovered what appeared to be new spills after the problematic water supply wells were closed. For example, several reports in the early 1990s showed that another underground storage tank, at Building 1613 in the Hadnot Point Industrial Area, appeared to have no fuel leaks.

In 1996, however, a consultant's report showed that an investigation at Building 1613 found TCE and a petroleum plume.

Scientists studying the fuel contamination have known about and been studying the effects of more than a dozen underground storage tanks at the Hadnot Point fuel farm. The tanks were about 1,200 feet from a drinking well called Hadnot Point 602.

That well was closed in December 1984 after a Navy contractor found high levels of benzene in it. Its closure prompted a review of other wells on the base, several of which also were shut down.

Scientists then learned about Building 1115, with its seven underground tanks about 300 feet from Hadnot Point Well 602.

"You could literally stand at this site and throw a golf ball and hit Well 602," said Jerry Ensminger, a Marine veteran and former Lejeune resident whose daughter, Janey, died in 1985 of childhood leukemia, which he thinks was caused by the contaminated water.

"God, each time they switched on Well 602, it was, 'Eureka! Benzene for everybody,' " said Ensminger, who's testified before Congress about the contamination.

The reports on Building 1115 are part of a series of documents about contamination throughout the Hadnot Point Industrial Area that scientists have combed in the past year. Many of them were part of contractors' reports and memos between the military and the state of North Carolina written during the 1990s and 2000s.

The tanks at Building 1115 were installed as early as 1943, just as Camp Lejeune was taking shape, and were dug up 50 years later, according to the documents recently obtained by McClatchy.

A site contractor removing the tanks warned the Marines that the tanks showed signs of leakage, that contaminated soil had been removed, and that there were "signs of contamination over the entire site."

The contractor recommended turning the site over to a federal environmental agency.

Later, government officials indicated that the two plumes from Building 1115 and the Hadnot Point fuel farm — some reports show three plumes — had merged.

Documents in 2000 showed that years after the fuel tanks were removed from the Building 1115 site and the Hadnot Point fuel farm, 4,000 feet of piping remained underground, and that it appeared to have connected the two sites.

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