Burr introduces bill on Lejeune water
WILMINGTON (AP) ó North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator introduced a bill Tuesday calling for the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide health care to veterans and their relatives who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
Sen. Richard Burr’s bill, “Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2009,” would grant care at a VA facility to any veteran or family member who was based at Camp Lejeune and suffers from adverse health effects. Burr’s office did not specify what kind of health problems, only that they are connected to exposure to contaminated water. Calls to the Department of Veterans Affairs were not returned.
A Marine Corps spokesman, 1st Lt. Brian Block, said the service would study the bill before making a statement.
“As far as pending legislation, it is something we’d be very interested in seeing because anything that impacts our former residents and Marines is very important to us,” he said. “Our first concern is taking care of our Marines and their family members.”
Water was contaminated by dry cleaning solvents and other sources at the base’s major family housing areas: Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point. Health officials believe as many as 1 million people may have been exposed to the toxins trichloroethylene (TCE) or perchloroethylene (PCE) before the wells were closed 22 years ago.
“Camp Lejeune veterans and their families deserve closure on this tragic situation,” Burr said in a statement. He is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and is the ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine master sergeant who lived at the base, applauded the bill. He said veterans from the base are being diagnosed with cancer and the VA is turning down their claim because it is not service connected.
“At least this is a start. We haven’t had that up to this point,” said Ensminger, whose daughter was conceived at Camp Lejeune and died of childhood leukemia in 1985 at age 9. “I would like to express my gratitude to Senator Burr for going to bat for the estimated 1 million veterans and their family members who were unwittingly exposed to these contaminants while in the service of our country.”
He would like to see a hearing in front of the full Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I believe that mechanism would be extremely helpful in getting to the ultimate truth,” Ensminger said.
It was not immediately clear how the care offered in Burr’s bill would be funded.
A report by the National Academy of Sciences, released earlier this month, said there are severe challenges in trying to connect the contaminants to any birth defects, cancer and many other ailments suffered by people who lived and worked on base.
The 341-page report reviewed past studies of the base’s water and health issues and said the Marines and Navy shouldn’t wait for more scientific studies before deciding how to deal with health problems.
Burr and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., have asked the Navy for details about gaps in information. Hagan plans to meet with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in September, according to her office.
“While we continue to seek more answers, this bill is a step towards providing the Lejeune veterans and their families the respect and care they deserve,” Burr said. “We owe those who are sick the benefit of the doubt and the health care they need.”