Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Cases can now move forward
President Biden signed legislation on August 10 that will help the Department of Veterans Affairs provide health care to millions of veterans and their families who were injured by toxic burn pits, as well as those who were exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune.
The PACT Act gives vets and their families more time to sign up for VA-provided healthcare if they were exposed to the toxins from burn pits while they served or lived in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also opens the door for Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits to be filed by people exposed to contaminated drinking water at the North Carolina camp for marines and seabees.
“This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances during their military services,” Biden said after he signed the bill.
The legislation simplifies how the VA can determine whether someone’s service put that person or their family at risk. For years, veterans groups have argued that it is usually too difficult to prove injuries from these sources on an individual basis.
With the new law, veterans, those who have survived them, or their family members diagnosed with one of 23 specific health conditions, will not need to prove a direct link to military service. The new law also allows funds to study toxic exposure and other health-related issues.
The White House ceremony ended an effort that began with vets themselves, but got late-inning help from a celebrity. Comedian-activist Jon Stewart helped bring attention to the bill, which Biden also supported prior to its passing, as he suspects that burn pits may have led to his elder son’s death from a rare cancer.
The bill is estimated to cost approximately $280 billion in the next decade.
A Texan who served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 was also part of those gathering outside the U.S. Capitol last week. Tim Jensen, a former marine, said he knew three people who had died from burn pit-related diseases. He said his best friend, Sgt. Frank Hazelwood, died from lung cancer, and two more of his battalion colleagues died from illnesses related to burn pit exposures.
Mr. Jensen said: “They were all cancers of the brain and the lungs,” which, he said, were atypical of their age group.
The ex-marine got involved several years ago with a group that runs BurnPits360.org, a web site where veterans and their families share gut-wrenching stories about burn pits’ impacts on their health and lives and the lives of their loved ones.
Burn pits sometimes as big as soccer fields were stinking cesspools the military used for years to burn or bury chemicals, medical and human waste, tires, plastics — a virtual smorgasbord of nasty refuse.
At a glance, the PACT Act:
- expands health and disability benefits for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations.
- contains provisions to aid more Vietnam-era vets injured by Agent Orange.
- provides support to vets and their families exposed to water contamination at North Carolina’s Camp LeJeune.
- helps soldiers exposed to radiation in Palomares, Spain.
- aids people exposed to radiation at Enewetak Atoll of the Marshall Islands.
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