ORLANDO, Fla. – Three days after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced several Camp Lejeune-related illnesses will be considered for a presumptive service connection, a local veteran who died from kidney cancer was denied by the VA again for the third time.
Tonight, Donald Burpee's wife said she is devastated after getting another denial letter she didn't expect to get, after finding out the VA said kidney cancer was one of the diseases they're discussing as a presumptive service connection.
Being classified as a presumptive service connection means as long as veterans meet eligibility requirements, they are approved for benefits.
Burpee and her husband fought the VA for months after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer they said was caused by the toxic drinking water at Camp Lejeune.
Local 6 helped get him a hearing before a judge back in May, and Donald Burpee was awaiting the judge's final ruling on his appeal when he died in July.
In the ruling, the VA heavily on the opinion of Dr. Deborah Heaney. She's what the VA calls a subject matter expert.
Heaney stated Burpee's cancer is more likely because of other factors, like obesity and smoking, than his exposure to toxic chemicals.
But three days ago, the VA made the presumptive service connection announcement saying, in part: "The diseases that are currently being reviewed for potential presumptive service connection include kidney cancer, angiosarcoma of the liver, and acute myelogenous leukemia, which are known to be related to long-term exposure to the chemicals that were in the water at Lejeune from the 1950s through 1987."
Burpee said it doesn't make any sense.
"I am so hurt that the denial was again given for my husband, Don, but it is typical with the VA and their system," said Burpee. "With all the issues with the Camp Lejeune water contamination being at the forefront, and my husband's case bringing out how the VA continually denies these cases for the Marines, to have this denial by a judge again is like a stab in the back. They poisoned these Marines and yet they want the blame to be anywhere but on the VA and the Marine Corps. I'm just heartbroken."
Camp Lejeune veterans advocate Mike Partain said there is information missing from the denial. He said a March 2015 Institute of Medicine report that was commissioned by the VA indicates veterans with kidney cancer who were on base should be given the benefit of the doubt. But that report isn’t mentioned in Burpee’s denial at all.
“It makes no sense whatsoever,” said Partain. “It’s an insult to the veterans in our country and someone needs to be held accountable.”
The VA said it was meeting on August 19th to discuss the presumptive service connection with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, so it is not yet a done deal.
The granting of presumptive service connection for certain conditions can still happen, and Burpee is hoping then -- Don's case will finally be approved.
Local 6 has emailed the VA for answers on Donald Burpee's denial, but so far, has not heard back.