After years of fighting for benefits for Camp Lejeune-related illnesses from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the battle may soon come to an end for thousands of Marines.
A 30-day comment period on the proposed regulation to make veterans suffering from eight conditions automatically eligible for disability benefits is scheduled to begin Friday.
[MORE: Scroll below to read policy ]
That comment period is one of the final, standard steps in order to make regulations like these official, according to policy.
In the past, documents from the VA show that less than 10 percent of Camp Lejeune-related claims were approved at times, but now, veterans and their families would no longer have to fight in order to receive benefits.
In order to be eligible, the proposed rule states veterans must have served on the North Carolina Marine Corps base between Aug. 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1987 for at least 30 days.
They must also be diagnosed with one of the following conditions:
• Kidney Cancer
• Liver Cancer
• Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
• Adult Leukemia
• Multiple Myeloma
• Bladder cancer
• Parkinson's Disease
• Aplastic Anemia/Myelodysplastic Syndromes
According to the proposed rule, once the regulations have been made official, eligible veterans will receive benefits on pending claims as of the date of publication and new claims received on that date or after. The rule does not apply to retroactive benefits. However, those with previously denied claims can file a new claim for benefits. An attorney also told News 6 veterans who believe they are entitled to retroactive benefits may also file claims or appeals to receive those retroactive benefits on a direct, rather than presumptive, basis. That type of effort could involve the need for nexus letters and other evidence from medical professionals to prove the claimant’s disease is at least as likely as not related to their service at Camp Lejeune.
This all stems from what scientists said were more than 30 years of chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune that veterans and their families drank, showered in, cooked with and washed their clothes with.
Scientists said from Jan. 1, 1953, to Dec. 31, 1987, two water treatment plants on the North Carolina base were contaminated with several chemicals, including trichloroethylene (TCE),tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and benzene, which are known or suspected human carcinogens. Those water systems were Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point, and included several wells. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found the contamination was due to a dry cleaner on base, as well as leaking fuel and chemicals from other base activities.
The Marine Corps said the affected wells have since been shut down and said the current drinking water meets all government standards and is tested more often than required.