The Obama administration has agreed to provide disability benefits totaling more than $2 billion to veterans who were exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Beginning in March, the cash payouts from the Department of Veterans Affairs may supplement VA health care already being provided to eligible veterans stationed at the Marine base for at least 30 days cumulative between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, the AP reports. Veterans will have to submit evidence of their diagnosis and service information. The VA estimates that as many as 900,000 service members were potentially exposed to the tainted water, and that the taxpayer cost will be $2.2 billion over five years.
The new rule covers active duty, Reserve, and National Guard members who developed one of eight diseases: adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Parkinson's disease. "This is good news," says retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose daughter Janey was born in 1976 while he was stationed at Lejeune. Janey died from leukemia at age 9. Ensminger now heads a veterans group, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, which advocates for those seeking disability compensation. "This has been a hard, long slog," says Ensminger, who believes the government must go further in covering additional diseases. "This is not the end of the issue." (Marines say the military should have told them about the contamination much sooner.)