With recent changes to the law, here is what you need to know about Camp Lejeune presumptive conditions – from fast track disability decisions to appeals.
VA currently offers two separate benefits to all qualifying veterans, and certain family members, who served at Camp Lejeune for no less than 30 days (cumulative) from 1953 through 1987.
- Disability compensation for eight presumptive conditions is granted to veterans exposed to toxic water at the base during the qualifying period;
- Health benefits or health care cost reimbursement for veterans and family members for 15 conditions associated with their services at Camp Lejeune.
As of March 14, 2017, VA announced that eight presumptive conditions eliminate the requirement that a veteran has to prove their diagnosed illness was the result of exposure to the base’s contaminated water. If you can show you served at Camp Lejeune from Aug. 1, 1953, to Dec. 31, 1987, for 30 days or more, you are now eligible to file fast-track VA disability compensation claims for one or more those eight conditions.
The final rule was published in the Federal Register on 1/13/2017, Diseases Associated with Exposure to Contaminants in the Water Supply at Camp Lejeune.
What Are the Camp Lejeune Presumptive Conditions?
VA has adopted a presumptive service connection for military service members exposed to contaminants in the Lejeune water supply who later developed one the following diseases:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
Veterans who were on active duty, or in the National Guard or Reserves, during the specified time frame are eligible. The area included in the presumption is all of U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, and Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River, including satellite camps and housing areas.
Roughly 900,000 veterans and 123,000 reservists were exposed to Lejeune drinking water polluted with industrial chemicals and solvents. It has been a discouraging, uphill battle. Nearly half of these Lejeune veterans are now deceased. Most surviving veterans are still waiting for disability benefits, in light of the presumption of service connection.
According to a 4/28/2018 report in the New Bern, North Carolina Sun Journal,
“Since March 2017, the VA has granted 4,568 veterans a service connection for a presumptive condition, while another 876 veterans were ruled eligible for a condition not among the eight conditions. The VA took an average of 302 days to rule on the claims, denying 24 percent of the cases.”
While the presumption of service connection should fast track these veterans’ claims, the slowness of process and denial rate is still unacceptable.
Was Your Camp Lejeune Disability Claim Denied?
If you applied for disability compensation and have been denied, you must not give up. For recent claim denials, you will likely be able to appeal your claim through the new VA appeals system.
Many veterans have filed water contamination claims years ago. These claims are likely based on past laws. If this is your situation, you may benefit by filing a new claim under the most current rules.
If you have questions, we urge you to get in touch with our VA claims attorneys at once. We will help you get the answers you need to prevail in your Camp Lejeune disability claim.
What Are the 15 Qualifying Conditions for Presumptive Health Care Benefits?
The following fifteen conditions qualify for health care/medical benefits. These benefits are available to eligible veterans and family members who lived in base housing during the specified period.
- Esophageal cancer
- Breast cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Renal toxicity
- Female infertility
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Lung Cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Myelodysplastic Syndromes
- Hepatic steatosis
- Neurobehavioral effects
Clearly, VA’s list of presumptive conditions for medical treatment is longer than its list of 8 presumptive conditions for disability compensation. Hopefully one day the list of 8 will grow to include all 15 conditions.
And as with other presumptive groups such as Agent Orange and Gulf War Chronic Illnesses, the Lejeune presumptive conditions may expand to include additional diseases. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) continues to do morbidity studies of former marines, employees and dependents who were exposed to Lejeune’s contaminated drinking water.
If you have one (or more) presumptive conditions for health and medical care, even if it is not one of the 8 presumptive conditions for disability, applying for a disability compensation claim with the VA is often the right action to take.
Understanding Presumptive Conditions and Presumptive Service Connection
Presumptive conditions are those diseases that VA presumes were caused by military service, and are tied to groups of veterans in specific circumstances of military service.
When a veteran in one of these groups is diagnosed with one of those conditions, the VA concludes that the circumstances of that veteran’s service caused the condition, so disability benefits can be swiftly granted.
The military personnel and their families living or working at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from 1953 to 1987 is one of these groups.
How Do I File a Claim for Camp Lejeune Service Connected Benefits?
Camp Lejeune veterans can file claims as directed on the VA website, which will request the following:
- File using VA Form 21-526EZ. Indicate that you’re applying for one or more of the presumed Camp Lejeune conditions;
- medical evidence of at least one presumptive condition (you need a current diagnosis of the condition you’re claiming);
- military records showing you served at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River for at least 30 days during the period of contamination, while on active duty, or in the National Guard or Reserves;
- Claims also can be filed electronically through eBenefits.
These claims can be difficult to win. We want to emphasize the strength of your claim can hinge on evidence and statements supporting the level of exposure to the bad water. E.g., did specific duties keep you in contact with the base’s water supply?
What Is the History of the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination?
Camp Lejeune is the second largest Marine Corps base in the U.S. During a period spanning from the 1950s through the 1980s, some one million marines (and family members) stationed at the base were exposed to contaminated well water.
What Contaminated Lejeune’s Water?
The contamination occurred back in a time when federal law did not limit toxins in drinking water. Colorless toxic chemicals saturated the water supply over many years. Substances included:
- volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as perchloroethylene (PCE), a solvent used in an off-base dry cleaning business;
- trichloroethylene (TCE), a solvent used for cleaning metal parts;
- Benzene, a fuel component also used to make other chemicals.
More than 70 chemicals have since been identified as contaminants at Lejeune.
As noted via claims and lawsuits filed by veterans’ advocacy organizations at the time, veterans and their loved ones “drank, cooked and bathed” in the polluted waters for years.
Many accounts portray entire families stricken with some kind of illness, while others portray veterans who had good health for many years, until a disease linked to their Lejeune service surfaced and made them sick.
So VA began to review conditions affecting these veterans. The specific span of time in question begins August 1, 1957, and ends December 31, 1987. Veterans must have served at least 30 days (consecutive or nonconsecutive) at the base.
Finally, in 2012, a bill was passed into law to extend free VA medical care to affected veterans and their families. This was the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 (Camp Lejeune Act).
But still no veterans were allowed disability aid or survivor benefits. Countless stories, complaints, and lawsuits ensued from veterans and their loved ones who, years after their time at Camp Lejeune, had developed devastating cancers and diseases.
VA Final Rule Is Passed Into Law in 2017
After years of research, and in conjunction with the 2012 Camp Lejeune Act, VA finally amended its existing regulations to bring some justice to these service men and women.
VA determined there was “sufficient scientific and medical evidence” to establish a connection between exposure to the contaminated water and eight medical conditions for purposes of awarding disability compensation. Family members similarly exposed also became eligible for many of these benefits.
Importantly, the new rule presumes exposure for all active duty, reservists, and National Guard personnel.
What If I Did Not Serve for 30 Days at Camp Lejeune – Can I Still File a Disability Claim for a Listed Presumptive Condition?
It is possible. But considering the VA’s track record for Camp Lejeune denials and the staggering backlog of claims, the 30-day requirement will be one of the initial boxes to check off when looking for reasons to weed out and nullify claims.
The final rule discusses VA’s reasoning for adopting the 30-day requirement. One reason is to ensure consistency with the 2012 Camp Lejeune Act, which enacted the 30-day service requirement for VA health care.
On the other hand, VA is required to resolve reasonable doubt in the claimant’s favor. For example, would a veteran serving 29 days involving a high-risk of exposure be at any less risk than veterans with 30 days of the same exposure? Is there credible medical opinion to confirm that the veteran’s 29-day degree of risk was as high as others on the base who were there the required 30 days?
For veterans who served at Camp Lejeune from 1953 through 1987, who have any conditions they think are directly related to or aggravated by contaminated water, we encourage you to file a claim for compensation. Also, it is important to establish the earliest possible effective date in your claim, so don’t delay.
Questions about Your Camp Lejeune Claim? Ask a VA Benefits Lawyer with Experience.
Our law firm goes the extra mile to lessen the frustration and injustices our veterans often face in their fight for vital benefits. If you need assistance with filing your claim or appealing a denial, don’t hesitate to give us a call. Our attorneys are VA-accredited and are here to help you get the disability benefits you deserve.
If you have doubts or questions about your eligibility, we will help you determine whether or not you are eligible for Camp Lejeune presumptive benefits.
If you served at Camp Lejeune but do not qualify for a presumptive condition for disability compensation, there are other routes to getting benefits. We can help.