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Camp Lejeune Marine Veteran Expresses Anger at Marine Corps and CongressRobert O'Dowd Salem-News.com
Stephen Connard points to a lack of support for those injured on base from the contaminated water wells now closed.
(WASHINGTON, D.C) - The story of the contaminated water wells at Camp Lejeune just won’t go away. The wells are now closed but many Lejeune veterans and dependents are visibly upset with what they perceive as a total lack of support from their Marine Corps and Congress.
For many Camp Lejeune veterans and dependents, the long fight for health care and compensation has left them with a deep distrust of the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense. If ever there was a case for fence mending, this is one.
The Marine Corps has an outstanding record as an elite fighting force. There are an estimated 500,000 veterans and dependents exposed to the contaminated well at Camp Lejeune. For many Lejeune survivors, the Corps’ proud motto of “Semper Fidelis” (Always Faithful) has become just another PR slogan.
For those of us who served in the Marines, Semper Fidelis or Semper Fi meant that you didn’t have to worry about another Marine not covering your back. For many veterans, the idea that the Marine Corps would deny any responsibility for disease linked to organic solvents in Lejeune’ base well was just incomprehensible. Stephen Crofton is one of them.
Stephen Connard of Crofton, MD, is one of the angry Marine veterans who was stationed at Camp Lejeune when well water was contaminated with organic solvents.
He was diagnosed with Acute Mylogenous Leukemia (AML) in March 2001. His doctor believes the contaminated well water at Camp Lejeune caused his AML. Connard has not filed a VA disability claim but said he plans to do so in the near future.
Following-up on his email to me, I spoke with Stephen by phone this morning. He was in the Marine Corps from 1977 until 1981. Except for a year on Okinawa and some time on float (on board ship), most of his active duty was at Camp Lejeune during the period the base wells were contaminated.
According to Connard, his initial two chemotherapies didn’t work. He said, “they tested my three brothers and one sister for a possible match for stem cell transplantation. There wasn’t a match. I knew I was on a very slippery slope headed downward. To make a long story short there was a match on the national donor pool. I received a stem cell transplant from a matched unrelated donor in July 2001. Sometime in November of that year my oncologist told me that they did not see any leukemic cells in my blood. I have been in remission since then.”
Stephen has had many side effects from the transplant. As a result of his suppressed immune system, he told us that he “gets sick with colds, pneumonia’s, and other illnesses frequently. I am fortunate to have very good private health insurance . Despite that, I have spent thousands of dollars of my own money on co-pays for specialist visits, treatments and prescription medications. I wonder how can any of my fellow Marines, dependents, and former base workers affected by the toxic water get by without ANY support from the US government”.
Stephen asked me to write a follow-up column to my January 29, 2010 news story, “Military Environmental Hazards Bill Faces Hurdles.”
The January 29th news story reported that the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs(the Committee) passed an original bill, “Examination of Exposures to Environmental Hazards During Military Service Act of 2010” on January 28th. The original bill was proposed by Senator Daniel Akaka (D, HI), Chairman, Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.
The provisions in Senator Akaka’s bill would cover environmental hazards claims from most military bases. For Camp Lejeune, the bill specifically requires DOD and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to compile a list of individuals (including fetuses in utero) who were exposed to environmental hazards at Camp Lejeune during the period when the water was contaminated with volatile organic compounds.
Those on this list are immediately eligible for health care from either the VA (veterans) or for TRICARE (dependents). TRICARE is a health insurance plan administered by DOD. No additional names can be added to the Camp Lejeune list after a 5 year period.
The Committee’s hearings on January 28th didn’t discussed the often lengthy latency period from exposure to chemical contaminants and onset of disease. Feedback from some Lejeune veterans expressed concern that the bill’s 5 year Sunset provision excluded those with delayed onset of disease.
The idea that Lejeune dependents would be eligible for DOD’s TRICARE health insurance was viewed with outright hostility by a number of Lejeune veterans and dependents who hold a deep distrust of DOD’s commitment to supporting them.
The vote was 9 to 5 along party lines. Nine democrats voted for the bill while 5 Republicans against it. Senator Jim Webb (D, VA), a Navy Cross Marine veteran, did not vote.
A Committee report and potential jurisdictional issues between the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Senate Armed Services Committee need to be resolved before the bill can come up for a vote on the Senate floor.
The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs has jurisdictional authority over the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) while the Senate Armed Services Committee has jurisdictional authority over the Department of Defense (DOD). If this sounds a little bit like a turf battle, you get the general idea.
The required Senate Committee Report is not ready, No floor vote can take place until the report is completed.
Connard’s email is reprinted below in its entirety:
From: Stephen Connard
To: Robert O’Dowd
Subject: Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Update, April 26, 2010
I like over a hundred thousand former Marines and former base residents of Camp Lejeune registered at the Camp Lejeune Water Registry website shortly after I received a letter from the Marine Corps via the IRS in March of 2008.
This letter informing me of my possible exposure to water borne toxins while I was stationed at Camp Lejeune came 28 years after the Marine Corps had notice that the water was contaminated with hydrocarbons, 27 years after I left the gates of Camp Lejeune to enter civilian life, 24 years after they shut down the contaminated wells, and some 7 years after my diagnosis of Acute Mylogenous Leukemia (AML).
At the time of my registration the website ( http://clnr.hqi.usmc.mil/clwater/ ) referred to the water as toxic. However, having looked at that same website just a few days ago to look for any updates, I noticed that the Marine Corps through its website now no longer calls that water as toxic, the same water that gave me leukemia, and hundreds of thousands of other former base residents various cancers and birth defects. It now refers to the water as ‘historic’.
I hope that by historic the Marine Corps is referring to the historic numbers of cancers and birth defects attributable to that water. After all, that water is not the same water that Jesus was baptized in, or the water that parted for Moses. The only mechanism that would have enabled the water to be labeled as historic is the high levels of human carcinogens in that water that has caused so much human devastation to those who once proudly served their country.
Would you please do a follow-up column on the historic waters of Camp Lejeune and the lives of former base residents, military, dependents, and civilian workers, who have been kicked to the curb as no longer valued human beings?”
We are in fact collateral damage in a war of cover up, denial, and obfuscation. We suffer the burden to our health, and the health of our loved ones, at great expense both financial, and emotional. Yet the Secretary of the Navy and Commandant of the Marine Corps have convinced the US Congress to lay dormant for some 30 years. There are members of this current session of Congress, who delayed their vote on the recently passed health care reform legislation because they wanted the bill to include care for illegal aliens.
What can I say about the great Marine hero Jim Webb? The same Jim Webb who was Secretary of the Navy and is now a US Senator from Virginia. The same Jim Webb who abstained from voting on a bill (S.1518) that would have provided medical care to those who were affected by the toxic water. I would guess that if Senator/Marine hero Jim Webb had his way all of us affected by the toxic water can wait another 30 years.
What has happened to the country we served when our Congress is more concerned about the health and well being of illegal aliens than those who have honorably served their country?
Unless Congress passes Senator Akaka’s bill or similar legislation, Stephen Connard and other Lejeune veterans in the same situation will be required to file a VA disability claim to receive VA medical care and disability compensation. This is a lengthy process at best. A medical nexus opinion will be needed to support that there’s at least a 50% probability that his cancer was “at least as likely as not” due to military service. Many doctors are hesitant to sign nexus opinions for one reason or another. For example, many medical doctors lack training in toxicology and epidemiology and may be naturally hesitant in writing nexus opinion to support a VA disability claim. For other medical professionals who do independent medical evaluations, the cost to a veteran can run into the thousands of dollars. For a disabled veteran who may be unemployed, the cost of an IME is out of the question. For many of these men and women, the clock is running out.
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